It’s a case of deja vu for the two teams competing in the District VI-IX playoff game in 2011. The reason why is because the two teams competing found themselves in the exact same position in 2010.
The Johnstown Trojans once again have earned their spot in the playoffs in Class AAA with a strong 9-1 season. On the opposite side of the field, it is again the District IX champion Clearfield Bisons, who clinched a second consecutive title last Saturday afternoon when they defeated the St. Marys Flying Dutchmen by a final of 28-7.
Now, the two teams once again will go head to head hoping to earn a spot in the state playoffs.
This game last year was all about turnovers. Johnstown entered the game having turned the ball over very little during the regular season. But Clearfield was up to the task and forced four turnovers in the first half, three of them being interceptions, and then held off the Trojan offense on a late charge to hold onto the 28-12 victory to move them into the state playoffs.
That certainly has been weighing on the Trojans since last year, and the fact that last week the team was idle may help them. It means they get a chance to rest their legs, and also spend an additional week studying film on their opponent.
Johnstown enters this game with a regular season record of 9-1, with their only loss coming against Central Cambria in a final of 7-6. That record was earned by both having a strong running game and a tough passing game, giving the Trojans a very balanced offense, and one that could create issues for Clearfield.
At the heart of that offense is once again quarterback Gervon Simon, the same quarterback that the Bisons kept contained in the playoffs last year and forced his three interceptions. Simon enters the game averaging 156 yards through the air, as he’s only 37 yards away from a 1600-yard passing season. The big difference this year compared to last year is his touchdown-to-interception ratio. Simon has 17 touchdowns passing this year, however he has thrown 19 interceptions.
Knowing that, and also knowing how strong the secondary of Clearfield is, Simon will have to be smart with the ball in order to have any passing attack in the game.
But as everyone knows, the way a team sets up the pass is establishing the run, and Johnstown has been able to do that this season. Averaging 217 yards a game rushing, Johnstown has put up the points just as much on the ground as they have in the air.
The leading rusher on the Trojans is Tim Odum, and he is going to be a tough running back to contain. Odum has over 1,000 yards rushing this season, averages 8.5 yards a carry, and has 12 touchdowns. Clearfield has been prone to giving up some yards on the ground at certain points in games, and with a back such as Odum on the opposite side of the ball, the front line and linebackers of the Clearfield will need to be on their toes because he can break one at any time.
Simon can also run the ball successfully, as he has 504 rushing yards this season including eight touchdowns.
The balanced offense will be tough to defend for Clearfield, but Johnstown cannot slouch on defense either. The Bisons have shown that just because they have been known to be a spread, pass-happy offense in years past, that they also can be an old-school, smash-mouth team, and win games in that fashion.
Clearfield averages 295 yards on the ground per game in 2011, while only averaging 65 yards passing. Those are strong statistics, but with Johnstown not giving up many points this year, establishing the run early will be critical for the Bisons.
That means Beau Swales will be getting a healthy dose of the football early and often in the game. The senior running back has almost 1700 yards rushing this season, and 22 touchdowns to his name. After spending a year behind Derek Morgan, Swales has shown he can be the man on the team to run the ball, take time off the clock, and put points on the board.
But Johnstown cannot single out Swales in the rushing game. Do not be surprised when Christian Lezzer, Curtis Frye and Ryan Hertlein get a hold of the ball, because all three have shown that they have the legs to rumble for yardage and score TDs.
When it comes to passing for the Bisons, they have not done much of it, but when they have it has been extremely effective. Sure, the numbers for Frye are on the low side compared to 2010 (32 of 103 for 703 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5 interceptions), but those statistics are misleading in a sense.
Clearfield has passed when necessary, and Frye has made some strong passes for not only big yardage, but touchdowns, when it was necessary. So, Johnstown needs to be aware that Clearfield will be looking to pass, even though the statistics say they will do a lot of running.
A berth in the state playoffs is on the line, and both teams are coming in ready to continue their season.
It is another afternoon kickoff as this game will be played starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and will be played at Mansion Park in Altoona. For directions to the stadium, visit ClearfieldFootball.org.