HYDE — The month of September welcomed in a chill in the air, perfect for a Friday night at the Bison Sports Complex. Fresh off their season-opening win over DuBois a week earlier, the Clearfield Bison laced up the cleats to start Mountain League play for the 2021 season, as the Bald Eagle Area Bald Eagles came into town. This game would be the the first meeting between the two schools since 2019 as their contest last year was cancelled due to the pandemic.
The home team also had a slightly different look as the Bison were honoring first responders on this night, so instead of their usual black home jerseys, Clearfield put on a special edition camouflage jersey in honor of the occasion. What it ultimately also did was prepare them for battle, as the two teams would go toe-to-toe early on. But the Bison defense ended up being the major difference on the night, forcing three turnovers, allowing the offense to capitalize. Clearfield concluded the night with a decisive 21-0 shutout thanks to the play of that defense.
“What a great game. There’s so many heroes. Some young kids really had a great night,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “Some older kids simulated Bald Eagle at practice, and guys like Nick Collins, Ty Troxel, Caleb Wilt, Luke Freeland; those kids busted their tails, and it showed.
“We played great pass defense because of those kids, and we had a freshman play corner all night. Will Domico had a big interception, Nate Natoli with a monster night. Really happy for this team, that right there is a big win.”
That win did not come easy as the entire first quarter both squads would battle in the trenches, neither of which were willing to yield. Both teams were not impervious to miscues in the first quarter, either, as it was first Bald Eagle making a miscue on third down when Carson Nagle lost the handle on the ball, and the Bison fell on the fumble. But, three plays later a bad read by Oliver Billotte led the Bison to hand the ball back when Hayden Vaughn picked off the senior quarterback.
Clearfield finally managed to find some momentum late in the first quarter after Billotte rumbled for a first down to get into Bald Eagle territory. The run, along with the legs of Mark McGonigal and also the hands of Jose Alban put Clearfield deep in the red zone. The key play on the drive came on second and goal when Billotte tossed to Alban, who appeared to pull in the ball then get his knee down just two yards from the goal line. But the side judge came in to declare the ball incomplete. Officials stopped play because while one called the incomplete, another had it as a catch. The huddle lasted a few minutes and when the referees departed, the call was reversed and Alban got credit with the catch.
The Bald Eagle sideline was livid, but the team kept the focus forward since it was still third down. However Billotte was not stopping for anything as he powered his way into the end zone for the opening score of the night. Luke Sidorick’s extra point made the score 7-0.
Still reeling from the call two plays prior, the Bald Eagles were making their voices heard at the nearest official, and apparently they went a bit too far. While the squads were getting set for the kickoff, the coaches still were jawing with the striped shirts, and it got to the point the referee tossed a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct on the visitors. The ensuing kickoff went from being at the Bison 40 to the Bald Eagle 45, and it went into the end zone for a touchback.
Neither team would see the scoreboard for the remainder of the half, but the Bison were feeling good heading into the field house and would get the second-half kickoff.
Clearfield saw the opening second half drive go almost four minutes, but ended with a punt. But, the Bison didn’t have to wait long for a second opportunity.
On the first play for Bald Eagle in the third quarter, Nagle was flushed from the pocket and made an ill advised throw that instead of going for a first down instead came up as a turnover. Natoli stepped in front of the throw for the turnover, igniting the sideline and the entire Bison crowd.
The ensuing drive would see Natoli play as big a part on offense as he did on defense, catching the ball on three plays of the five-play drive, capped off with a nine-yard grab in the end zone for the second Bison touchdown of the night. Billotte’s pass found its mark, and Sidorick’s right foot made it 14-0 halfway through the third quarter.
Billotte’s night throwing the ball, despite the interception, saw him go 11-for-20 for 115 yards and the score. Natoli led the Bison offense with six catches for 86 yards along with a score. Natoli, along with others, got more opportunities in the passing game as Karson Kline was contained most of the night, only pulling in one reception.
“They were bracketing Karson a lot tonight,” Janocko said. “We had to go a couple other places. Tonight definitely was a total team effort.”
The defense was not done as they culminated a dominant night two drives later as Nagle was forced into another errant throw, this one being picked off by Will Domico, setting the Bison up at midfield and just a bit over 90 seconds left in the third quarter. The Bison offense would just go old-school in three plays as Luke McGonigal would carry on two of the plays for 34 yards, capping the drive with a 21-yard bolt up the left side for the second rushing touchdown of the game. Sidorick made it 21-0, as the Bison sideline was fired up with just over a quarter remaining in the game.
McGonigal led the Bison on the ground with 71 yards, but Janocko focused on the defense as they would force multiple sacks, and played havoc on the Bald Eagles for 48 minutes.
The visitors would be held to minus-56 yards rushing, thanks to sacks and fumble recoveries, as the defensive line would make it challenge for any Bald Eagle player to find some daylight.
That 21-point gap held through the fourth quarter, and Clearfield would hold the ball for the remaining seven minutes, allowing some of the underclassmen to get some valuable playing time.
“Our defensive line was just outstanding (tonight). Oliver (Billotte) had a big game on the end, Isaac Samsel, Josh Steele, Hayden (Kovalick) had a couple sacks; they just came at them and made it difficult on their quarterback,” Janocko said of his defense that forced three turnovers and held the visiting Bald Eagles to 65 total yards.
Clearfield (2-0) continues its early season home field slate as they will play host to Penns Valley next Friday.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Bald Eagle 0 0 0 0 – 0
Clearfield 0 7 14 0 – 21
BISON: 2-yard run by Billotte (Sidorick kick), 7:57
BISON: 9-yard pass from Billotte to Natoli (Sidorick kick), 5:53
BISON: 21-yard run by McGonigal (Sidorick kick), 0:16
Bald Eagle Area/Clearfield
- First Downs: 6/14
- Rush Yards: (-56)/163
- Pass Yards: 117/115
- Total Yards: 61/278
- Penalties-Yards: 3-25/4-30
- Turnovers: 3/2
- Time of Possession: 17:29/30:31
Bald Eagle: G. Burns-10 carries, (-12) yards; Nagle-9 carries, (-41) yards; Eckley-1 carry, (-3) yards.
Clearfield: McGonigal-12 carries, 71 yards, TD; Billotte-11 carries, 38 yards, TD; Alban-10 carries, 37 yards; Bell-3 carries, 18 yards; Chamberlain-2 carries, 5 yards; Collins-1 carry, (-4) yards; Team-1 carry, (-2) yards.
Bald Eagle: Nagle-12 for 33, 120 yards, 2 INT; G. Burns-2 for 2, (-3) yards; Eckley-0 for 1.
Clearfield: Billotte-11 for 20, 115 yards, TD, INT.
Bald Eagle: Eckley-5 catches, 42 yards; Irvin-4 catches, 35 yards; G. Burns-1 catch, 19 yards; K. Burns-1 catch, 19 yards; Splain-1 catch, 8 yards; Vaughn-1 catch, (-1) yards; Watkins-1 catch, (-2) yards.
Clearfield: Natoli-6 catches, 86 yards, TD; Alban-2 catches, 10 yards; Paul Cook-1 catch, 11 yards; Crutchfeld-1 catch, 10 yards; Kline-1 catch, 8 yards.