BELLEFONTE — Entering the month of October, the Clearfield Bison had already established themselves as a strong team on offense, seeming to run the ball at will when given the opportunity. Their focus was to establish the run, pound the defense, and take time off the clock. They didn’t get away from that tactic, although sometimes they would throw in some new designs to confuse the opposition.
When they entered Friday night’s contest against the homestanding Bellefonte Red Raiders, they knew that on paper it looked like a mismatch, but decided to come at their opponents with the same attitude as if they were facing the top team in the state.
In doing so, seemingly by design, the Bison showed off some new concepts, and new packages that evidently seemed to do the job. Clearfield spread the ball on offense, seemingly rushing the ball for positive yardage and into the defensive backfield every down, every play. The first half of the game belonged to the Bison, scoring on all seven drives, and putting the game well out of reach for the Red Raiders. The game was over at halftime as the Bison opted to just run the clock in the final 24 minutes, finishing up with a 49-13 triumph.
“We’ve run the ball pretty well all year. We wanna keep working on that, and we have a couple different people that can carry the ball. Offensive line does a nice job too,” head coach Tim Janocko said afterward.
The Bison in the first half rushed for 288 yards, and six touchdowns. Their offensive dominance was led by Tyler Stratton, who was done playing after the first half in a 195-yard night, with four touchdowns. In the first quarter alone he had 160 yards on the ground. But what was most important is that in many of his rushes, it was out of a different package, almost a hybrid of the read-option and the wildcat, as Stratton was calling out signals, as the quarterback.
“We put a new wrinkle in there, we put him at quarterback. We just want teams to keep wondering what we’re going to do. He’s very versatile,” Janocko said.
But at the same time, what was an even bigger difference was the starting quarterback. Normally, Christian Lezzer is at the helm of the offense, but on this night he seemed to be nursing some lingering injuries, so it was Eric Sellers getting the nod for the first-team offense, making the first start of his young career.
In doing so, it seemed that the Bison had a solid backup. Sellers maintained control all night long, finishing the night 4-for-7 passing for 69 yards and one touchdown.
“We wanna keep working on diversifying our offense, see what we can do as the year goes on, and try different sets and different things. It was a good night for Eric, good start for him,” Janocko said.
After Bellefonte opted to defer to the second half, Clearfield took the opening kickoff and immediately went to work. Stratton and Lezzer both got strong carries on the first three plays, getting first downs each time. But after a holding penalty, the Bison lined up at the Red Raider 30, hoping to get back some of that yardage. They ended up doing more than that, as Stratton took the handoff and shook off tackles on his way to his first touchdown. Spencer Herrington booted the extra point, and just over a minute into the game Clearfield had the lead.
When Bellefonte came out for their opening drive, it ultimately set the tone for their night. A muffed kick return set Bellefonte deep in their own territory. A one-yard gain by Nick Jabco led to a 2nd and 9, but Jabco was not only tackled in the backfield on the next play, but the ball came out of his hands. Clearfield pounced, and had great field position following the turnover.
One play later, it would be another score by Stratton, and another kick by Herrington. Not even two minutes into the game, and Clearfield was up 14-0.
Whether that got in their heads was tough to tell, because when Clearfield kicked off, once again Bellefonte muffed the return. But, this time it was gathered up by their own player, Austin Jackson, who found a gap on the left sideline, and shook off tackles one by one, and stopped the early momentum. An 87-yard kickoff return, and the extra point by Mark Armstrong cut the gap in half, and the nine minute mark had not even been met yet in the first quarter.
“The kid made a nice return on that kickoff. We just got our poise back, mixed it up a bit, and obviously we have the tools to do that. Bellefonte kids played hard all game, so you have to give credit to them too,” Janocko said.
Wanting to get back the momentum, Clearfield then decided to again stick with the run. The next drive saw nothing but run plays, all but one taken by Lezzer and Stratton. Lezzer ultimately would cap it off with a 12-yard run for his first touchdown of the night. Another extra point, and it was 21-7, still not out of the first quarter.
On defense, the Bison did their job, forcing a 3-and-out, and a punt. In the first half, Bellefonte was held to just one first down, and 31 total yards.
“Our defensive line played real well, and all four linebackers played real well. Seth Ford, Nick Kovalick, Jake Lansberry and Wyatt Flanagan defended the run game pretty well,” Janocko said.
Stratton again was the star, this time out of the quarterback spot, as on the next drive he took a 3rd and 13 from his own 43, found the gap on the left, and was sprinting for the line. The 57-yard run, followed by Herrington’s kick, made it 28-7 to kick off the second quarter.
Following another three-play drive, Lezzer would be the recipient of the majority of the running on the drive, as he would score from three yards out for his second, and ultimately final, touchdown of the game. Another extra point, and the score was 35-7 with just under nine minutes to play in the first half. After that drive, Lezzer spent most of his time on the sidelines, getting a rest as the game was well in hand. Janocko said this was in a sense a plan for the night, especially with the tough stretch coming up.
“He’s been carrying the ball 27, 28 times a game. We felt tonight was a chance to give him a bit of a rest,” Janocko said. “He still carried the ball some, but we decided that if we didn’t have to do some things with him we wouldn’t.”
Another short drive by Bellefonte gave the ball right back to Clearfield, with Seth Caldwell getting some playing time alongside Stratton. Ultimately, Stratton would cap off his night with his fourth touchdown of the game on a 5-yard push to the end zone. Herrington’s extra point made the score 42-7, and ensured a running clock in the second half.
But, with time still on the clock, Janocko knew there was still a chance they could get the ball back. He just didn’t know it would come in less than a minute.
On a 3rd and 7 for Bellefonte, Armstrong went back to pass and looked to his left for Nick Leiter. However, despite being shorter, Caldwell was able to leap up and snag the pass away, the second turnover in the half and gave Clearfield the ball back with just over five minutes to play.
Sellers would do a lot of the running on the drive, while Caldwell also got the nod on one play. But following a bad snap, and also a delay of game, Clearfield found itself 2nd and 26 from the Red Raider 40. That was when Sellers showed that he too had an arm. Looking downfield, Sellers threw a strike over the defensive secondary, one that went right into the hands of Lezzer’s younger brother, Ryan, and into the end zone. The picture perfect pass, and the extra point, made the score 49-7 heading into halftime.
With the mercy rule in effect, Clearfield kept things simple in the second half, as they ran the ball and ran the clock, which due to the score would only stop on time outs and change of possession. Many of the backups and junior varsity players got some playing time under the bright lights, which gave a chance for the starters to just rest, and get set for next week.
“Keep working on polishing things up. We have some kids that can run, and tonight we got an opportunity to give a lot of kids some experience, and develop some depth,” Janocko said. “As the season goes on, you get bumps and bruises, it’s good to get those kids ready to go.”
The lone score in the second half came late in the third quarter, as following a huge run by Jon Kerschner, it would be Leiter that would get the touchdown from 20 yards out. The extra point was blocked, which left the score 49-13, where it remained till the final whistle.
Now at 6-0, Clearfield will be heading back home for the first of two extremely difficult games on their season. But, Janocko believes the rest he gave to some of his big play makers will help, because they want to play in games that ultimately could be down to the wire, and where they can make a name for themselves.
“It’s a long season, we’re trying to get into playoffs here now, so we’re trying to make a push. We got a long way to go yet,” Janocko said. “It’s a big game, should be a lot of fun. That’s what you play for every year.”
That big game he spoke of comes next Friday night when Clearfield returns home to the Bison Sports Complex to take on the 5-1 Tyrone Golden Eagles, who are coming off a 14-0 shutout win over Bald Eagle Area.
See photos of the game here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/100413Game.html
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 28 21 0 0 – 49
Bellefonte 7 0 6 0 – 13
BISON: 30-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 10:55
BISON: 12-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 10:01
RED RAIDERS: 87-yard kickoff return by Jackson (Armstrong kick), 9:44
BISON: 12-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 4:28
BISON: 57-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 0:36
BISON: 3-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 8:51
BISON: 5-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 6:05
BISON: 40-yard pass from Sellers to R. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 2:52
RED RAIDERS: 20-yard run by Leiter (Stover kick BLOCKED), 0:14
First Downs: 17/4
Rush Yards: 385/131
Pass Yards: 69/8
Total Yards: 454/139
Time of Possession: 26:36/21:24
Clearfield: Stratton-11 carries, 195 yards, 4 TD; Caldwell-11 carries, 90 yards; Shimmel-10 carries, 16 yards; C. Lezzer-8 carries, 57 yards, 2 TD; Daub-5 carries, 39 yards; Sellers-6 carries, (-12) yards.
Bellefonte: Kerschner-7 carries, 80 yards; Jackson-7 carries, 26 yards, 87-yard kickoff return TD; Smith-6 carries, 6 yards; Jabco-4 carries, 13 yards; Armstrong-3 carries, (-7) yards; Leiter-1 carry, 20 yards, TD; Hough-1 carry, 1 yard.
Clearfield: Sellers-4 for 7, 69 yards, TD.
Bellefonte: Armstrong-1 for 7, 8 yards, INT.
Clearfield: R. Lezzer-2 catches, 44 yards, TD; Stratton-1 catch, 19 yards; Wingate-1 catch, 6 yards.
Bellefonte: Jackson-1 catch, 8 yards.