HYDE — The anticipation began during the summer, and built up as each practice, walk-through, and warm-up progressed. Finally, all the practice was put to the test for the 2013 edition of the Clearfield Bison. Head coach Tim Janocko and his staff prepared the squad to the best of their ability, but the real test came when the players laced up the cleats and stepped onto the turf at the Bison Sports Complex.
Across the field, a familiar opponent from a year ago, one that made the trip from across the northern border. The St. Joan of Arc Angels from Canada once again opened their season against the Bison, and looked to put up a fight against the homestanding Bison.
But after 48 minutes, there was little doubt as to the top team on this night. Despite some nerves that led to penalties, the Bison put a strong game together to open the 2013 season with a 45-7 victory over the Angels.
“We did some good things tonight. Early on, a lot of nerves back and forth. But after the first quarter, we really took off,” Janocko said afterward. “We’re revved up, the first home game, so you’re gonna have some mistakes.”
Both Clearfield and St. Joan of Arc were not without their share of mistakes. The two teams combined for 15 penalties, with a majority being false starts or offsides. But when the flags weren’t flying, the Bison were showing that they were literally the toughest herd on the field. Clearfield would go on to rack up 390 yards of offense, 318 coming on the ground. Defensively, they forced two interceptions, held the Angels to just 77 yards of total offense, and the special teams came up big with both a blocked field goal and a blocked punt.
The Angels took the opening possession of the game down the field thanks to a fake punt, and some strong rushing from quarterback Nate Hobbs and running back Saad Amir, but the drive stalled out inside the red zone. St. Joan of Arc went for the 25-yard field goal, but the defense stood up and took possession quickly.
Unfortunately, Clearfield would turn it over on the next possession after Christian Lezzer fumbled on second down. Hobbs then tossed an interception on third down.
Finally, with just under four minutes left in the first quarter, the Bison struck. The turnover gave Clearfield great field position to start the drive, then following a couple of runs, Lezzer let his arm show off. He lobbed a pass right to Seth Ford, who avoided being taken down and then stretched to the goal line for the first score of the season. Spencer Herrington tried to add on the extra point, but the ball sailed left. Still, it was an early 6-0 lead.
But the next drive, according to Janocko, was what changed the game.
After holding St. Joan of Arc to just five plays, they were forced to punt. The snap went well, but the line broke through and the Bison knocked the ball right down. It rolled to nearly the end zone for the score, but was downed just inside the one-yard line. It gave Clearfield an easy 1st-and-goal, which was easy picking for Ford who pounded the ball into the end zone. Herrington was true on the point after, making the score 13-0 heading into the second quarter.
“After the first quarter, we started to get a rhythm, and we just took off. We made some big plays, but the blocked punt I feel changed the game dramatically,” Janocko said.
The opening drive of the second quarter saw Tyler Stratton get into the running game a bit, carrying three times. However he was pulled out shortly after as he was nursing injuries from the scrimmage this past Friday. Rather than risk further injury, he was pulled, and Janocko opted to sit him so he’s ready for the next game. But, Lezzer made sure his efforts paid off as he would score his first touchdown on the ground on a two-yard plunge. Another extra point made the score 20-0 with just over 10 minutes left in the first half.
The Angels went three-and-out on the next drive, due to the tough defense that pushed their offensive line back, and forced two tackles for loss and an incomplete pass. It would be 4th and 28 and on the punt attempt, Hobbs opted to kneel in the end zone, taking the safety and giving Clearfield the ball back.
On the ensuing drive, it could be considered the defining drive of the game as Lezzer went on a tear. He tosssed completions to Ford and rushed for 28 yards. But when his team faced a 4th and 4 on the Angels 22, he called his own number. He got the first down, but wasn’t done. With the secondary going for the legs, he timed the attempted tackle just perfectly and took to the skies, as if he had jumped on a trampoline. Lezzer stayed on his feet, and 22 yards later he found the end zone. Lezzer would end the night with nearly 200 yards passing and rushing, and four total touchdowns. The team was on a roll, and another extra point made the score 29-0, which it remained into halftime.
The second half of the game could be summed up with one player for the Bison…Seth Caldwell. Last year, he wasn’t even part of the team, as this year is his freshman year. But Janocko sensed something in him, so he moved him up the charts to a backup to Stratton. What he got was a clinic on how quick his young back could be.
His first play in the second half was a 26-yard sprint that put the team at 1st and goal at the 1. After being stuffed on first down, Lezzer would be the one to add to the score with his final touchdown of the game. Another extra point, the score would be 36-0, enforcing the Mercy Rule.
Unfortunately, the shutout would be stopped on the ensuing drive as St. Joan of Arc would score on a 55-yard pass from Hobbs to Jared Liberman, who found a gap in the secondary. The extra point would make the score 36-7, but at this point the game was well in hand.
But then, Caldwell would get his chance to shine. The following drive saw him carry the ball all but one time, driving the ball deep into Angels territory. He would have been in the end zone, but just short of the goal line the defense reached in and pulled the ball from his grasp. Luckily for him, the defense would not allow a first down, and would force another punt to the back of the end zone. Hobbs, who also did punting duty on this night, took another knee, and the second safety of the night made the score 38-7.
Finally, with a majority of the backups in for the game, Caldwell finally got his chance to shine as he would finally get to taste the end zone as part of the varsity squad. His 2-yard score would cap off an impressive game where he carried 18 times for 110 yards, including one score.
“We expected some big things out of him (Caldwell), that’s why we moved him up,” Janocko said. “We blocked well for him.”
In the end, it goes down as a win for Clearfield, but Janocko was proud of his team despite the mistakes they had. At the same time, he also was quick to praise St. Joan of Arc for the effort they put up.
“They have talent. They have speed. Their quarterback is something special, so it was important for us to get our game going in the second quarter because they are really dangerous,” Janocko said. “I was really impressed with our offensive and defensive lines. I thought that was key in the win.”
Clearfield (1-0) will go after win number two next week as they host Penns Valley.
See pictures of the opening night win here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/083013Game.html
SCORE BY QUARTER
St. Joan 0 0 0 7 – 7
Clearfield 13 16 7 9 – 45
BISON: 20-yard pass from Lezzer to Ford (Herrington kick WIDE LEFT), 3:52
BISON: 1-yard run by Ford (Herrington kick), 1:45
BISON: 2-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 10:22
BISON: Safety, 8:41
BISON: 22-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 5:21
BISON: 1-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 9:18
ANGELS: 55-yard pass from Hobbs to Liberman (Fraser-Greene kick), 7:09
BISON: Safety, 10:57
BISON: 2-yard run by Caldwell (Herrington kick), 3:33
St. Joan of Arc/Clearfield
First Downs: 7/14
Rush Yards: (-23)/318
Pass Yards: 100/72
Total Yards: 77/390
Fumbles (Lost): 1 (0), 3 (3)
Time of Possession: 20:21/27:39
St. Joan of Arc: Hobbs-15 carries, (-1) yards; Amir-11 carries, 10 yards; Miles-2 carries (-1) yards; TEAM-2 carries, (-32) yards.
Clearfield: Caldwell-18 carries, 110 yards, TD; C. Lezzer-14 carries, 142 yards, 3 TD; Ford-10 carries, 43 yards, TD; Sellers-4 carries, 19 yards; Stratton-3 carries, 4 yards; Daub-2 carries, 0 yards.
St. Joan of Arc: Hobbs-6 for 18, 100 yards, TD, 2 INT; John- 0 for 2, 0 yards.
Clearfield: C. Lezzer-4 for 7, 67 yards, TD; Sellers-1 for 1, 6 yards.
St. Joan of Arc: Liberman-2 catches, 62 yards, TD; Amir-2 catches, 31 yards; Wray-2 catches, 7 yards.
Clearfield: Ford-2 catches, 35 yards, TD; R. Lezzer-2 catches, 22 yards; Wingate-1 catch, 15 yards.