It seems literally as though the football season just started, but unlike in year’s past, for many schools that sentiment is an actual reality. The pandemic forced practices that would normally be during the summer to happen nearly to September, and seasons that normally were 10-game slates suddenly became so short, no one knew what to expect. Games cancelled because of outbreaks, others moved due to risk of exposure; it has been a season where each week is completely unpredictable.
And now…it’s playoffs.
For the Clearfield Bison and the St. Marys Flying Dutch, their short seasons are potentially coming to a close. These two squads are ready to compete for the District IX Class 3A championship, after each experienced short seasons to try and come together as groups in order to just make the field. Both saw their seasons begin in mid-September. Aside from that aspect, things were completely different for both squads.
Clearfield enters the title game with a 3-1 record. The season began promising with a rout on the road against Penns Valley on September 11. Then, the season paused. A positive test on the squad brought the 2020 campaign to a halt, and it would not be until October 2 that the Bison would return to the field. The layoff did not hurt as they would compete for three consecutive weeks, defeating both Philipsburg-Osceola and Huntingdon, while experiencing a heartbreaking loss on the road against Central.
On the opposite side, the Dutchmen started their season one week later, September 18, but have not looked back. They come into the title game with a 5-0 record, the first time in many years that the opposition for Clearfield enters the championship game without the better record.
It is the first time these two teams have met since 2011, another District IX title game, where the Bison won, 28-7. Clearfield has won three of the last four meetings, with St. Marys last victory coming in 2007. This one is already looking like a battle of attrition, and one that either side could come out victorious. Here’s a tale of the gridiron as we look at both offenses and defenses for Saturday’s contest.
St. Marys offense vs. Clearfield defense
The Dutchmen pose a tough opposition for Clearfield, averaging right at 400 yards a game, mainly due to a double-tough rushing attack of James Davis and Jacob Kline. Both have led St. Marys to a combined effort of 574 yards on the ground through five games, and five touchdowns. No other running back is even close in rushing, with just quarterback Christian Coudriet accounting for more rushing touchdowns (5) on the team.
That said, Coudriet is just as potent with his arm, completing almost 63 percent of his throws, and throwing for over 1200 yards. Keep in mind, that is only through five games, meaning the Bison secondary is going to be tested early, often, and unless they have an answer to the air assault, it could mean a long night and an early finish to the season. Coudriet is not a quarterback that makes many mistakes, as he’s hurled 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
Clearfield’s most difficult task will be trying to cover a plethora of receivers, with the Dutchmen having six different players accounting for receiving touchdowns. Senior Michael Fitzgerald has five on the year, the most on the team, while Mitchell Reiter accounts for the most receiving yards (319).
Although Coudriet has five interceptions on the season, this Clearfield secondary has come alive in recent weeks. Nate Natoli nabbed a pair of interceptions a week ago, and even the linemen are getting in on the action as Hayden Kovalick and Josh Steele each have gotten their hands on the ball this season.
Clearfield offense vs. St. Marys defense
Not to be outdone, even in just four games, the Bison offense has showcased the ability to score early and often. Considering all but one of their games this season has seen them achieve over 40 points, it’s safe to say the Dutchmen defense is facing just as much a foe as the Bison defense.
At the helm, Oliver Billotte is keeping pace with his own stout run of stats, with 708 yards passing through four games, 10 touchdowns, and just two interceptions, both of which came in the lone loss against Central.
What makes Billotte extremely tough is that he is also the hardest guy to bring down when he decides to use his feet instead of his arm. The junior quarterback leads the team in rushing, which if there is a weakness on this season, it is the Bison ground game. It’s not that the Bison cannot run the ball, which they have shown they can. But, what stands out is that the Bison don’t have that star back like they have in year’s past. With guys like Billotte, Jason Plubell, and Mark McGonigal all having time to carry the ball. But, none of them have stood out more than the other, which means that if the Bison decide to slow down the game, one of these young men will have to take the lead, and rumble for some yardage.
If not, relying on the receivers will make the Bison one-dimensional, but at the same time, there’s quite a list of receivers for Billotte to choose. Obviously, Karson Kline and Jake Lezzer are the main targets on the outside, but there’s another six players who have been on the receiving end of passes.
Clearfield will have to get out front early, and quickly, since the Dutchmen have played shut-down defense this year, yielding an average of 15 points a game. Otherwise, it could be a long night for the Bison.
One thing about this game that is going to make many Clearfield supporters extremely happy is that Passport Radio is not just bringing the play-by-play coverage on the airwaves. For Saturday’s game at Frank Varischetti Field in Brockway, fans can go to the Passport Radio Facebook page and not just hear Planet P and Coach give voice to the action, but the game will also be streamed LIVE on Facebook from the pregame, through halftime, postgame, and every play in between. If fans “Like” the page before the game, they will get a notification that the broadcast is starting. Pregame coverage will begin at 12:45 p.m.
Being able to stream the game for those that cannot attend, as each player was only allotted three tickets each, is being done thanks to the Bison Quarterback Club.
Kickoff in Brockway for the championship is at 1 p.m.