HYDE — No more summer workouts; no more mini camps. When the calendar rolls around into September, it means football season has arrived. For head coach Tim Janocko, his staff, and for the Clearfield Bison, it meant it was time to get back to business on the field.
The 2015 season kicked off Friday night for the black and red squad at the Bison Sports Complex with one of the toughest challenges to start a season to date. Coming in from below the border was a two-time defending state champions from Maryland, the Fort Hill Sentinels.
No team was sure of what to expect to start the year, and neither certainly expected to have the kickoff moved back. Just after the completion of pre-game workouts, the skies opened up slightly with a little rain. But then the rain picked up, and suddenly lightning strikes were seen in the distance. The booth told spectators to seek shelter in the school or in their vehicles, because conditions were not safe.
Finally, after a half hour, the squads came back out for the coin toss, ready to do battle on the turf.
At the end of 48 minutes, it was clear who was dominant on this night. The visiting Sentinels, complete with their Wing-T ground game showed exactly why they were defending champions for the last two seasons in Maryland, and why their team was on a 28-game winning streak. Fort Hill would achieve 472 rushing yards on the night, as they rumbled to a 49-14 victory over the homestanding Bison.
“They were an outstanding team. We weren’t as good as we needed to be,” a dejected Janocko said afterwards.
Fort Hill could not be stopped on the night at all thanks to fullback Raen Smith and running back Brayden Brown. Combined, the two rushed for 273 yards and four of the team’s seven rushing touchdowns.
Smith would start the scoring off with a 21-yard rumble in the first quarter, capped off with Austin Farrell’s extra point to give the visiting team a 7-0 lead. But it was the second drive that really showcased the junior’s talent.
The Bison kept Smith in check on the first two runs, but on a 1st and 10 it was sophomore Brayden Poling getting the call, and he would not only get stuffed for a loss, but a costly block in the back penalty was added on, making it 1st and 23 from the Sentinels 24. That did not stop Brown from getting the carry and breaking through the left side of the line, shedding tackles and beating the secondary. At that point, he grabbed high gear and sped away for the 76-yard score. Another extra point, and it was 14-0 by the time the second quarter got under way.
Clearfield would use the rest of the first quarter to put together its most impressive drive of the game, especially considering it didn’t look like it would start well.
Jakob Wingate took the kickoff at the one, but stumbled down three yards later, setting up the Bison at the four. But, thanks to a combination of Cody Spaid’s arm, plus the running ability of Ryan Lezzer, Wingate and Seth Caldwell, the team would rack up the 96 yards needed to make it to the end zone, as Lezzer would score from four yards out. Josh Serena added the extra point, making it 14-7 just barely into the second quarter.
Spaid’s first night as the leader of the offense would see a great run on stats, finishing 19-for-36, 273 yards, and one score.
While Spaid’s night was great, Janocko could tell his team was still having some difficulties in their season opener. That was what led to the Sentinels adding another two scores by halftime, one on a two-yard plunge by Smith, and a second from quarterback Lennon Squires. His score may not have occurred had it not been for a costly roughing-the-passer penalty two plays earlier that set up Fort Hill with a new set of downs. Those two touchdowns, plus the extra points, made it 28-7 at the halftime break.
The Sentinels would have a night where not one time they would be faced with a fourth-down play, and would only be forced into a third-down situation on four different occasions.
Janocko could see his team was gaining yards on the offensive side of the ball, but defense is what did them in.
“We moved the ball, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was things like the illegal shifts in key situations. Against a team like them, you have to play a flawless game, and we didn’t,” Janocko said. “I didn’t think we tackled very well. I’m not taking anything away from them, they are two-time state champs for a reason.
“When you start the season with a game like that, there’s no where you can go but up.”
It would be more of the same in the second half as Clearfield would take the opening drive in the third quarter and make it to near mid-field, but would be forced to punt. It only took one play for the night to take a tough turn as Brown would once more break into the secondary for a 57-yard sprint. Another kick, and it was 35-7.
Clearfield would put together another impressive drive on the next possession, starting at their own 24 and making it all the way into the red zone of Fort Hill. Unfortunately, Spaid’s 4th and 8 pass that was on target for Tallin Norris in the corner of the end zone went right off his gloves, and it was again the Sentinels’ ball.
It took three plays, one being Squires taking a quarterback draw for a 70-yard sprint, before Fort Hill would be back in the end zone. A four-yard dive by Poling, plus Farrell’s right leg, made it 42-7, meaning for the first time since the field turf was installed in 2013, the Mercy Rule would be put in effect when Clearfield was trailing.
Fort Hill let some of their underclassmen take the field in the fourth quarter but it resulted in the same conclusion. A 12-play drive would be capped by Troy Banks II diving in from a yard out. The extra point would make it 49-7 with just over four minutes left to play.
Spaid would get his highlight play on the final possession of Clearfield. On 2nd and 6, he wound up his big arm and looked for Lezzer, who grabbed the pass and decided to make his own sprint to the end zone. Serena added the extra point, making it 49-14, which it remained as Fort Hill would run out the remainder of the clock.
For Janocko, the game was a good indicator of where his team is right now, and where they can and will go for the rest of the season.
“There’s things we can look at. It was 49-14, but a play here or there and the roughing the passer call at the end of the half that gave them the touchdown. Things like that we have to stop, and it could be a 14-point swing,” Janocko said. “(We’ll need to) fix the things we need to fix, and build on the things we did do well. The score looks bad, but we moved the ball. We just didn’t get in the end zone enough.”
Now that the first game is out of the way, Clearfield (0-1) will be looking to get into the big part of their schedule, as they will open Mountain League play next week. Janocko said that it was important to get that first win under the team’s belt before getting into the heart of their schedule over the next two months. But he made it clear that what was seen tonight is not what will be seen eight weeks down the road.
“We’re gonna get better, I can tell you (that) right now,” Janocko said with authority. “You will see us at the end of the year, we’re going to be a completely different football team. I guarantee it.”
Clearfield gets to stay home for another week as they play host to the Penns Valley Rams next Friday night at the BSC, with kickoff at 7 p.m.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Fort Hill 14 14 14 7 – 49
Clearfield 0 7 0 7 – 14
SENTINELS: 21-yard run by Brown (Farrell Kick), 7:51
SENTINELS: 76-yard run by Brown (Farrell Kick), 4:20
BISON: 2-yard run by Lezzer (Serena Kick), 11:55
SENTINELS: 2-yard run by Smith (Farrell Kick), 9:13
SENTINELS: 12-yard run by Squires (Farrell Kick), 2:56
SENTINELS: 57-yard run by Brown (Farrell Kick), 8:30
SENTINELS: 4-yard run by Poling (Farrell Kick), 1:58
SENTINELS: 1-yard run by Banks II (Farrell Kick), 4:43
BISON: 56-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Serena Kick), 3:43
First Downs: 17/15
Rush Yards: 472/45
Pass Yards: 0/273
Total Yards: 472/318
Time of Possession: 23:37/24:23
Fort Hill: Smith-19 carries, 116 yards, TD; Poling-8 carries, 59 yards, TD; Banks II-8 carries, 29 yards, TD; Brown-4 carries, 159 yards, 3 TD; Graves-3 carries, 8 yards; Squires-2 carries, 82 yards, TD; Spencer-2 carries, 13 yards; Trimble-2 carries, 7 yards; Team-1 carry, (-1) yards.
Clearfield: Caldwell-9 carries, 23 yards; Lezzer-7 carries, 3 yards, TD; Bumbarger-2 carries, 18 yards; Wingate-2 carries, 1 yards; Spaid-2 carries, 0 yards.
Fort Hill: Squires-0 for 1, 0 yards.
Clearfield: Spaid-19 for 36, 273 yards, TD
Fort Hill: None.
Clearfield: Lezzer-6 receptions, 104 yards, TD; Caldwell-4 receptions, 40 yards
Date Opponent Score Record 09/04 FORT HILL, MD 14 – 49 0 – 1 09/11 PENNS VALLEY 09/18 @ Central 09/25 HUNTINGDON 10/02 @ Brockway 10/09 @ Bellefonte 10/16 TYRONE 10/23 BALD EAGLE AREA 10/30 @ Philipsburg-Osceola