Whether it’s at the professional level, collegiate level, or at high school, early season games set the tone for how a season will go. But it’s not often when an early season game can be called a must-see match up.
But that has become the case of the week three contest at the Bison Sports Complex. After a late-night conclusion last week, the Clearfield Bison return to their home turf hoping to continue the momentum over the first two weeks of play. But this week is a much tougher test than the previous week. Despite having the home-field advantage, the team across the field also has momentum on its side. The team on the other sideline as well is looking to remain undefeated.
For the Bison, their task is to put a loss on the record of the Central Dragons.
This game on paper is a very evenly matched contest. The visiting Dragons are coming off a shut out victory over the strong Tyrone Golden Eagles. This is huge in the confidence of the Dragons because Tyrone is consistently one of the top teams in central Pennsylvania, so the team is already entering with a lot of momentum on its side. At the same time, Central is also one of the best teams statistically through the first two weeks of the year.
The Dragons average just over 400 yards per game, with 285 of those yards coming on the ground. Look for Central to greatly rely on the ground game early to get things started.
This means both quarterback Austin Cunningham and running back Bradi Moore expect to both see the ball early, and often. Moore curently leads the team with 180 yards on 25 carries, just over seven yards per carry. Cunningham has 166 yards thus far on 20 carries, an average of slightly over eight yards per carry, but is the team leader in rushing touchdowns with four, compared to Moore’s two. At the same time, another 11 players have touched the ball at least once so far this season.
Establishing the run game will also give Cunningham a chance to open up his passing game, as he’s completed 7 of his 10 passes through this point in the season. It may not seem like much, but with two of those passes going for touchdowns, and just two passes being picked off, his quarterback rating of 113 is not something to pass over.
Clearfield’s defense needs to be aware of the passing attack by the Dragons, and could be one of the deciding factors in the game.
By the same token, Central needs to be aware that Clearfield is very much like them. Clearfield is coming off of a 47-0 shutout of Penns Valley, a game that ended shortly after 11:30 at night thanks to over two and a half hours of delay due to lightning strikes. But, delays or not, the Bison had the game in hand well before the delay began.
Clearfield is averaging 372 yards per game, less than Central, but the Bison as well rely on the ground game to establish its game plan. Much like the Dragons, should the Bison get their ground game rolling early, it will be difficult to stop.
The man to watch is running back Tyler Stratton, as he’s the leader of the Bison in rush yards through the first two games, with 216 total yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns. Add in the fact that quarterback Christian Lezzer is a dual-threat in the Bison offense, and it makes for a potent combination. Lezzer averages nearly 7.5 yards a carry and has two touchdowns already this season. When he decides to air the ball out, he’s just as tough as he’s 10 for 17 passing this season for 204 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
But, this is where the difference in the two offenses come in. Clearfield has a very distinct advantage in its receiving corps as Trey Jordan has the most receptions on the team, catching seven passes, and has three touchdowns on the season.
His most spectacular catch so far this year came last week against Penns Valley when he had a stronger jump on Lezzer’s pass, going over the defender for the catch as if he was grabbing a rebound off the backboard, and then rumbled into the end zone.
This is the key factor for Clearfield. Should the passing game be established early along with the running game, it could get Central backed into a corner, and force them to play a different type of game than they hadn’t experienced through the first two weeks of the season.
Finally, the one advantage the Bison will have on its opponents will be the crowd. The second home game of the season has been named “White Out” night for Bison fans. It’s not the first time Clearfield has experienced such a night, but it is the first time they will be the hosting team. Last year, Clearfield was the visiting team when they traveled to face the Philipsburg-Osceola Mounties on their homecoming night, and fans were encouraged to wear white to the game. That night ended with P-O on top, so Clearfield knows what the effect can be. This time, though, the Bison will have the crowd on their side, cheering them on as they defend the home turf.
This game could come down to the last drive in deciding a winner, and has the potential to be one of the best games in the early part of the 2012 season.
Kickoff at the Bison Sports Complex is set for 7 p.m. For those that are unable to attend, every Bison game is broadcasted on 93.1 WQYX.