KARNS CITY — The regular season finale for the Clearfield Bison meant loading up the bus for a road trip; a rather long road trip. The squad headed west on I-80 down to Karns City for a showdown against the Karns City Gremlins, a team they have become familiar with over the last few seasons. Entering in with two losses, the Bison were ready to gain a few more points in the rankings to help with their playoff positioning.
They ended up with a showdown that started rough, yet stayed competitive. Clearfield battled through four turnovers, and even after a pair of key injuries, kept the game close. But, after 48 minutes, the Gremlins were the ones celebrating as they handed the Bison a 35-27 loss to close out the regular season.
“It’s hard to battle back when you turn the ball over so early,” a dejected Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “We turned the ball over three times right away, but we fought hard to hold them to just seven points in the first half. You know, it’s extremely tough to do that against a talented team.
“We came back, took the lead there, but then we had some injuries come our way that we didn’t expect. So, it’s a tough one to take.”
Those three turnovers happened on the first three drives of the game. Clearfield received the opening kickoff, however just after crossing mid-field, the Bison lost the handle on the exchange on the snap, and the Gremlins fell on the loose ball right away. Utilizing a short field, they marched down to the red zone, with Levi Hawk capping the drive on a 19-yard run down the right side to open the scoring. The extra point was true, making it 7-0 early in the game.
The next three drives combined for both squads went nowhere, because all three resulted in untimely changes of possession.
Clearfield’s second turnover came when Will Domico was intercepted down the field by Micah Rupp. The Gremlins gave the ball right back on a fumble near midfield, only to see Clearfield’s Carter Freeland cough it up four plays later. Despite the turnovers, the Bison held the opposition to only the opening touchdown heading into the second quarter.
It would not be until near the end of the second quarter when Clearfield evened things up, but it came at a bit of a cost.
Taking the 1st-and-10 RPO (Run-Pass Option), Domico rolled to his left and managed to get inside the 10, but at that point did not stand up. Trainers and coaches came over, and with him holding the lower part of his leg, got assisted to the sidelines. Jacob Samsel took over at the quarterback position, as the training staff looked over their starter. Ultimately, the trainers carted him to the locker room before the half ended, as the leg injury would put him down for the remainder of the game.
That did not stop Clearfield because they would fight and get into the end zone thanks to Carter Chamberlain on a 1-yard plunge. Evan Davis booted the extra point, and suddenly with less than two minutes to go, Clearfield had some life.
They would not quit, forcing a quick three-and-out, and got the ball back at their own 34. With two timeouts, and 50 seconds till the break, Clearfield pounced. Brady Collins gained long yardage on a pair of carries, then Samsel found Freeland on a spectacular grab in double coverage to put the ball inside the 20 with mere ticks left on the clock. The exchange was so good, they went for it again. Once more in double coverage, Freeland pulled he ball down in the end zone. Even with the Gremlin players saying the ball touched the ground, the officials disagreed, and suddenly Clearfield would head into the locker room with the one-score advantage.
“Taking the lead into the locker room was huge, not just offensively,” Janocko said. “Jacob coming in at that spot was confidence boosting for us, and defensively we showed up when needed there.”
Karns City didn’t take too kindly to losing the lead right before halftime, and made their point clear in the third quarter as they went on to put up 21 unanswered points.
A 36-yard run by Braden Slater, a dive by Nathan Hess, and an explosive 46-yard rumble by Mason Martin suddenly changed the game. Staring at a 28-14 deficit, Janocko rallied the entire team on the sidelines, making it clear that his team was not giving in. The two-score gap was not the largest they had seen all season, and the entire coaching staff made it clear they were still in it.
However, the rally had to come without the use of their star runner, Collins. He would go down to injury early in the quarter, spending part of the time on the sidelines in a walking boot alongside his teammate, Domico.
“It’s not the time of year to have those kind of injuries. To have your starting quarterback go down, then starting running back, we had to battle. I’m proud we were able to come back like we did, but to see those two go down, that’s hard on all of us,” Janocko said.
Freeland took the load as the running back after seeing Collins go down, finishing the night with a team-high 127 yards rushing. But it was Chamberlain who began bringing Clearfield back, as he plunged in from two yards out to cut into the lead. Davis’ kick sailed right, leaving the score 28-20 with 9:27 remaining in the game.
The Gremlins answered back with the second rushing touchdown by Martin to get the lead up to 35-20, as Karns City took advantage of the youth in the secondary, as Clearfield played a majority of the second half with a pair of sophomores and freshmen at corner back and safety.
Still, the Bison were not yielding, as Chamberlain put in his third rushing touchdown with just under five minutes to go in the game.
Clearfield needed a stop in a big way, and on the ensuing drive got just that thanks to their defensive line not allowing a first down, including a key sack on third down to force the punt. This gave Clearfield one more opportunity to go down and score, needing not just the touchdown but also the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
Clearfield managed to get into Gremlin territory, but controversy flew on a five-yard run by Freeland, as he was tackled on the sidelines and the flags went up, seemingly to signal unnecessary roughness as he ended up right in the bench area. However, the officials waved off the flag, causing the Bison coaches to go ballistic. No sideline warning was given, but the Bison were fueled by the no-call, getting the line to gain and working inside the Gremlin 40.
Time was running short, as were the downs. Samsel had to look for yardage, but saw a screen pass fall from the hands of Chamberlain. Then a crossing rout over the middle to Freeland nearly was intercepted. Faced with 4th-and-12, the Gremlins called a time out, and both teams headed to their coaches to prepare for the deciding play of the game.
The Bison came out ready, as did their opponents. Samsel took the shotgun snap, and looked for his tight end, Joe Knee. The ball floated just a bit, and the Gremlin defense spiked the ball down as if they were on the volleyball court. The incomplete pass ended the drive, and gave Clearfield its third loss on the season.
Even so, Janocko felt the 7-3 record they achieved on the year was nothing to be sorry about.
“We still had a great regular season. We battled each week, we’re Mountain League champions, so it was a successful year. We just we didn’t need some of the things that happened tonight to occur,” he said. “The advantage is now, we do have a bye next week to get healthy. We still have a District IX championship to play for.”
Clearfield will await the release of the playoff bracket, with the Class 3A District IX championship slated for the weekend of Nov. 11-12. The Bison will play the winner of next week’s St. Marys (6-4) and Punxsutawney (6-4) game.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 0 14 0 13 – 27
Karns City 7 0 21 7 – 35
- GREMLINS: 19-yard run by Hawk (Ritzert kick), 8:31
- BISON: 1-yard run by Chamberlain (Davis kick), 1:26
- BISON: 12-yard pass from Samsel to Freeland (Davis kick), 0:05
- GREMLINS: 36-yard run by Slater (Ritzert kick short), 10:27
- GREMLINS: 1-yard run by Hess (Hawk run for conversion), 7:24
- GREMLINS: 46-yard run by Martin (Ritzert kick), 2:51
- BISON: 2-yard run by Chamberlain (Davis kick wide-right), 9:37
- GREMLINS: 15-yard run by Martin (Ritzert kick), 5:54
- BISON: 4-yard run by Chamberlain (Davis kick), 4:48
- First Downs: 18/13
- Rush Yards: 283/266
- Pass Yards: 141/50
- Total Yards: 424/316
- Penalties-Yards: 6-40/2-30
- Turnovers: 4/1
- Time of Possession: 25:45/22:15
- Clearfield: Freeland-16 carries, 127 yards; Chamberlain-14 carries, 69 yards, 3 TD; Collins-10 carries, 64 yards; Domico-4 carries, 14 yards; Samsel-2 carries, 7 yards; Team-1 carry, 1 yard.
- Karns City: Hawk-12 carries, 63 yards, TD; Slater-5 carries, 70 yards, TD; Coyle-5 carries, 17 yards; Hess-5 carries, 22 yards, TD; Martin-4 carries, 64 yards, 2 TD; Garing-4 carries, 13 yards; Booher-3 carries, 10 yards; Kelly-1 carry, 7 yards; Team-1 carry, (-2) yards.
- Clearfield: Samsel-5 for 9, 88 yards, TD; Domico-3 for 4, 53 yards, INT.
- Karns City: Booher-3 for 12, 36 yards; Martin-1 for 2, 15 yards.
- Clearfield: Freeland-6 catches, 65 yards, TD; Putt-1 catch, 14 yards; Samsel-1 catch, 2 yards.
- Karns City: Coyle-2 catches, 31 yards; Hawk-1 catch, 14 yards; Garing-1 catch, 5 yards.