HYDE — The way to see how good a football team comes together as a unit is in times of challenge. Things happen to get behind, maybe seem out of hand, but how one rises to the challenge determines how strong the entire unit can be. On a few occasions this year, that has been what the Clearfield Bison have showcased; there may be times when the score may not be in their favor, but when the moment is right, things can change and everything starts going their way.
When the team was led onto the field of the Bison Sports Complex on Friday night, there was an immediate challenge in sight. It was on the opposing sidelines that were occupied by the Brockway Rovers.
Early on, it seemed as if that challenge would be hard to meet, as the Bison found themselves in an early hole, and the stunned crowd could sense things were not in their favor. But, the game was 48 minutes long, and only 12 of those minutes had passed. When the final 36 minutes clicked away, it was the home squad that celebrated as Clearfield put the brakes on the fast-hitting Brockway offense to secure the 28-17 victory.
For Bison head coach Tim Janocko, the game was a perfect example of the philosophy he preaches to his team.
“That’s a mindset we preach here. We want to really finish out a game, come out in the second half and take it to them,” Janocko said.
In the first half, Brockway was having their way with the Bison defense, as they were passing and running all over the home group. At the end of the first 24 minutes, the Rovers had 194 yards of offense, with 127 of those yards coming from quarterback Braden Martini, including one touchdown pass. However, in the second half, the big plays came from the Clearfield offense as they would gain 158 yards, and the defense would hold the high-octane Brockway attack to just eight yards total for the final 24 minutes.
“We didn’t cover really well, we were blowing some coverages. The quarterback for Brockway at times found people wide open,” Janocko said. “We covered better in the second half, and he had to hold onto the ball a little bit better and we got after it. Our defensive line played a lot better in the second half.”
The first half for Brockway started early as despite a three-and-out to start the game, their second drive saw much success through the air as Martini completed six of his seven pass attempts on the drive. But, it was the quick plunge handoff to Anthony Benson that accounted for the first touchdown of the game. An extra point later by Jarrett Esposito and it was 7-0 in favor of the visitors.
The Bison could not sustain their second drive of the game, and when they punted the ball back to Brockway, the Rovers did not waste any time.
On the second play from scrimmage, Martini and Benson decided to hook up again. On 2nd and 1 at their own 41, Martini looked to his left, and threw deep. Coverage was impressive on the play, but the ball still somehow landed in Benson’s hands, and the foot chase was on as he would rumble the 59 yards to the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. Another extra point, and it was 14-0.
Clearfield finally managed to sustain a drive on the next possession. Starting at their own 20, it just was basic football of ground-and-pound, with only a couple passes in between. After 14 plays, the Bison were at the opposing 23, still looking for more.
On 1st and 10, Eric Sellers took the snap and faked the handoff, then looked to the end zone where Nick Kovalick was waiting. But, Benson was on coverage as well, and knocked the ball in the air. It almost became a basketball scene as the ball bounced off hands and shoulder pads, but somehow Benson snagged the ball, and dragged his right toe in the end zone to grab the interception. The long drive went for nothing, ending in a turnover and seemed to take a lot of wind out of the sails of the Bison. At least that’s how it seemed.
The ensuing drive after the turnover would see just a three-and-out, and with Brockway punting, Clearfield was ready to take to the challenge and make a comeback.
Even with a penalty on the first play, Clearfield would rely on Sellers and Seth Caldwell to eat away at the clock and the yardage. It would culminate in an eight-play drive that saw Sellers plunge into the end zone for his first score of the night. Herrington, after missing all of last week, booted the extra point to bring the Bison within a touchdown of the lead.
Little did they know the wait for their next chance to make an impact would come just 10 seconds later. On the kickoff, Anthony Isabella had a strong return, but the Bison tackled hard, and knocked the ball out. The scuffle to get the loose ball would be won by Clearfield and with only 33 yards to the end zone, the home team was sensing the momentum.
It took only six plays, but Sellers would make it in the end zone for the second time with just 47 seconds left in the half. Herrington’s kick tied the game, but left some time on the clock.
The ensuing drive by Brockway saw Mark Latuska break into the secondary on two occasions with both a 19 and 20-yard run, but would eventually be stalled out at the Bison 30. However, Esposito had a strong leg, and was given the task of attempting a 47-yard field goal to give Brockway the lead heading into halftime. He would do just that as the attempt went through the uprights, and entering the locker room the score would be 17-14.
In the locker room, the Bison knew work needed to be done, and when they came out onto the field for the final 24 minutes of play, it seemed as though a different team entered the field of battle.
“Coach was telling us we gotta get their hands off us and get penetration, pressure on the quarterback,” said senior lineman Brian Thorpe. “He just said ‘keep working hard, pounding it, and even said defensive line had to step up.”
What Clearfield needed more than anything was a big play to get the momentum squarely in their favor, and they got that on the second half kickoff. Ryan Lezzer was the one that caught nearly every kickoff Brockway sent to the Bison, and eventually he was going to break one in the open field. It finally happened as he took the ball at his own 21, and broke into the open field on the right side, eventually being tackled at the Brockway 39.
In Janocko’s eyes, that play changed everything for his team.
“That set the tone for the second half. We knew they were going to kick to Ryan, they did not want to kick to Seth Caldwell,” Janocko said. “We talked to the front and second line and said we hoped to get a good return.
“I hoped we could get it out to our 40, well we got a bit better than that, nearly took it to the house. But it set up a short field, and our offensive line took over after that.”
It only took five plays but Sellers would again be the one that found the end zone from four-yards out. Herrington’s extra point gave Clearfield the lead for the first time on the night, but the defense was what needed to make the biggest statement.
On Brockway’s first drive of the half, Thorpe set the defensive tone up front as he sacked Martini on the first play. Clearfield held them to only three plays, and just six positive yards, forcing the punt. Clearfield unfortunately turned the ball on an interception on the ensuing drive, but the defense was once again ready to make an impact.
One play after the interception, the front line of Clearfield’s defense made an impact, stripping Benson of the ball in the backfield, and recovering the loose ball for the turnover.
The ensuing drive would only take just over two minutes, but it would wear down the defense on the ground, but it was the air attack that finished it. After struggling all game, quarterback Cody Spaid finally had his moment, as he read the secondary and found Lezzer over the middle for the 36-yard score. Herrington’s kick made it 28-17, where it remained till the end of the game, but that isn’t what made the biggest impact over the last 15 minutes of play.
Brockway had the ball on four different occasions over that time, and combined only had six yards of offense. The Clearfield defense had a challenge of shutting down Brockway to prevent them from scoring or gaining momentum. The challenge was accepted, and fulfilled.
“I thought it started long before the second half. I think it started in the second quarter when we came back and tied it up, then the kid (Esposito) kicks a 47-yard field goal,” Janocko said. “You’re thinking ‘What do we gotta do here?’
“We just said we know what we need to do, we didn’t execute in the first quarter, didn’t play well in the first quarter, and the kids knew. We didn’t panic, kept our poise, and came out and executed.”
Clearfield ran the ball efficiently, but did so methodically in getting bits of yards each play, taking the fight out of the defense. Even though big plays happened a few times, the “nickel and dime” technique was what showed the strength of the Bison. Sellers afterward was praising the line, not just this year, but on the teams that he has played on the last two years.
“We definitely have the big play ability with Ryan (Lezzer) and (Nick) Kovalick making some big plays this season. But the last couple years we’ve been gifted with having big linemen,” Sellers said. “We’re going to stay behind them until it completely stalls. So far this season it’s been a success, and we’ve been doing right, but it’s the little things.
“Five or six times a game this season we’re doing things that are mind-boggling; we’ll watch it in film room and go ‘what’s happening.’ We can correct those small things.”
Clearfield (3-2) now has a week to correct those mistakes they did have in the game, now sitting above .500 for the first time this season. The Bison are home next week as they host the Bellefonte Red Raiders on Homecoming night.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Brockway 14 3 0 0 – 17
Clearfield 0 14 14 0 – 28
ROVERS: 1-yard run by Benson (Esposito kick), 5:06
ROVERS: 59-yard pass from Martini to Benson (Esposito kick), 1:37
BISON: 4-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 3:04
BISON: 5-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 0:47
ROVERS: 47-yard Field Goal by Esposito, 0:03
BISON: 4-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 9:58
BISON: 36-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 3:15
First Downs: 10/17
Rush Yards: 31/215
Pass Yards: 171/108
Total Yards: 202/323
Time of Possession: 19:30/28:30
Brockway: Benson-6 carries, 20 yards, TD; Martino-5 carries, 21 yards; Martini-5 carries, (-36) yards; Latuska-3 carries, 39 yards; Team-2 carries, (-13) yards.
Clearfield: Sellers-27 carries, 137 yards, 3 TD; Caldwell-23 carries, 87 yards; Lezzer-2 carries, (-2) yards; Team-2 carries, (-7) yards.
Brockway: Martini-19 for 26, 171 yards, TD.
Clearfield: Spaid-7 for 14, 82 yards, TD, INT; Sellers-1 for 3, 26 yards, INT.
Brockway: Benson-7 catches, 111 yards, TD; Martino-4 catches, (-7) yards; Glasl-3 catches, 28 yards; Gorham-3 carries, 20 yards; Isabella-2 catches, 19 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-6 catches, 73 yards, TD; Kovalick-1 catch, 26 yards; Lansberry-1 catch, 9 yards.