The 2020 season for all football teams across Pennsylvania has been one that can be described as confusing, frustrating, and one that everyone had to adapt to. Each week, things were changing, with games cancelled, teams forced to quarantine and those not effected, are effected since that meant an unexpected bye week.
Somehow, many teams put together a season that, although short, actually happened. Locally, the Clearfield Bison had everything going for them in the opening week, getting that first victory when the only folks they could celebrate with, were each other. Then, nothing; the team had to stay away from one another, as COVID struck only one player. That was enough to take away action for two consecutive weeks, and leave a void that was hard to fill.
Once the team came back on the field, three games would follow, with only a heartbreaking late-game loss being the lone blemish. Now, the Bison can say they are again Class 3A Champions in District 9, and their reward is an entry into the PIAA playoffs.
That run begins on Friday night, in front of their home crowd. On that night, the Bison will face…the Bisons.
Two teams, similar names, but two completely difference conferences. Friday night, Clearfield plays host to the Bedford Bisons, who are coming into the playoffs with a perfect 7-0 record from the Laurel Highlands Conference. The “Battle of the Bison” will mean the end of the season for one team, and potentially the end of an unblemished record. Here’s a look at a breakdown of both sides of the ball.
Bedford Offense vs. Clearfield Defense
For Clearfield, the number one priority is to keep their eyes on No. 2. The reason, No. 2 for Bedford is their top passer, and rusher. Mercury Swaim has put together a strong season in seven games, completing 61 percent of his passes on the year for over 1000 yards. With a QBR of 123.9, thanks in no less to 12 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions, the entire offense relies on him to make plays.
When his arm is not doing the work, his legs certainly make up for it. His 626 yards on 61 carries, an unprecedented 10.3 yards per carry average, means that the Bison run defense will have to perform exactly how it did a week ago against St. Marys, as in shutting it down otherwise the game will be short, and painful. With 11 touchdowns, Swaim has shown he is the one the entire offense circles around. In doing so, defenses can get tunnel vision, and that means others will fill that void.
With rushers like Steven Ressler, Elijah Cook, and Trenton Price all able to gain yards, along with both Ressler and Gregory Edwards able to haul in pass receptions, Clearfield has to keep their eyes open all across the field.
When it comes to defense, the man that has come on late this season has been Nate Natoli, who has pulled in three interceptions in the last few games, including a couple pick-six opportunities. Not only that, but the large front line of Clearfield has been able to pull down interceptions as well, including a stunning pick-six by Shane Coudriet this past Saturday against the Flying Dutch that put the game out of reach.
Clearfield needs to focus on No. 2 for the entire game, but at the same time not make it their only priority. Otherwise, they will have another “2” on the season, as in their second loss.
Clearfield Offense vs. Bedford Defense
In order for the Bison to defeat the Bisons, the key will be intelligent play. One thing that Clearfield has done a lot this season was big play opportunities on offense, which helped propel them to a championship in District 9. However, the best offense for Clearfield in this case is to actually keep that powerful Bedford offense off the field. This means methodical drives, taking time off the clock, and keeping Swaim from using his arm and legs.
This means that Clearfield has to somehow establish the run, something that at times this season has not been easy. In fact, the leading rusher on the team only has 202 yards for the season, quarterback Oliver Billotte. That’s an average of 40.4 yards a game. Second on the team, Mark McGonigal, with 131 yards. Combined the two have nine of the team’s 10 rushing touchdowns.
Being able to run the ball may be the difference in this game, and if Clearfield can’t they have to rely on the passing ability of Billotte.
That said, having receivers like Karson Kline and Jake Lezzer could help since they have shown they can make the big catch when needed. Billotte has thrown for 921 yards this season, with 697 of those yards to these two receivers. Clearfield has their big-play players, but cannot just rely on big-play opportunities in order to win. They have to be in control of both the ball, and the clock, and keep Bedford on the sidelines.
Otherwise, the opposing Bisons will be the team moving on for another week.
There may be some trick plays, there may be some spooky feelings, but at the end of the night, the treat for one team will be going home with a victory, and one more week of action. Kickoff at the Bison Sports Complex is at 7 p.m.