HOLLIDAYSBURG — A week ago, the Clearfield Bison faced some of the most adverse weather conditions they had ever competed in to take home the District IX Championship. At one point people possibly were wondering if officials were going to need canoes in order to make it down the field. This week, the PIAA playoffs began in a week where the team practiced in heavy snow, had to work through a squall on the way to the stadium in Hollidaysburg, and then had to withstand below-freezing temperatures at kickoff. The opposing team, the District VI champion Central Dragons, had to endure the same conditions on Friday night, making for a cold showdown to open the state playoffs.
Clearfield’s night would end with everyone having red noses and faces inside the facemasks, but it also ended with their season coming to a close. Early turnovers, quick scores, and a passing attack from the Dragons handed Clearfield a 35-6 loss that abruptly ended their 2022 campaign.
“We were maybe two or three plays away from changing everything, and a couple calls didn’t go our way,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “The game was closer than the score indicates, and I know that’s kind of cliché, but we didn’t come here to lose (by a close margin). We came here to win.
“These kids have come so far, I’m so proud of them, played so hard all year and through adversity.”
The Bison opened the game working into Dragon territory, but got stalled out at the 36, and elected to punt instead of go for it, figuring to play a field position game with the cold weather. What surprised Clearfield was the Dragons decided to play the pass, as senior quarterback Jeff Hoenstine would be a perfect 7-for-7 on the opening drive, finishing the drive off with a seven-yard strike to Eli Lingenfelter on a crossing route to start the scoring. The extra point made it 7-0 with about three and a half minutes remaining in the first.
It was three minutes later when the two connected again from five yards out, almost the same play, to increase the lead to 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Clearfield would not go quietly, and coach Janocko rallied the team to be ready for a big play moment. Unfortunately, that big play came in favor of Central, as Lingenfelter showed he was just as good on defense as he was on offense. Facing 2nd and 9 at the Dragon 42, quarterback Jacob Samsel, playing due to starter Will Domico being out for the playoffs, looked to his left and forced a throw to the sidelines looking for Carter Freeland. Lingenfelter stepped in front of the pass to collect the first turnover of the night.
Ironically, Clearfield answered with their own interception on the ensuing drive, when freshman Colton Ryan leaped in front of Hoenstine’s pass, immediately swinging momentum in the direction of Clearfield.
That momentum got halted on the following drive following a sack of Samsel, plus an added holding penalty, forced a 3rd-and-29. With no other choice but to pass, Samsel heaved the ball but saw it fall into the hands of Central’s Dalton Metzger. Central would work into Clearfield territory, but the Bison defense held strong to force a fourth down inside the five. Hoenstine looked to Metzger in the end zone, but a fast reaction by Isaac Putt broke up the play, keeping the 14-0 score heading into halftime.
Clearfield’s turnover woes continued in the second half as they would fumble on their opening drive in the third, and despite not giving up a score, Central downed the punt inside the Bison one-yard line. The offense barely made it outside the 10, but Janocko made a call that normally would not be done. Rather than punt away, he decided to take a major gamble and go for it on fourth down.
The handoff to Carter Chamberlain was right up the gut, and Central stuffed every gap. Even with the reach, Chamberlain was short of the line, and the Dragons took over in prime territory.
It took one play from Hunter Smith, who found a gap on the left side, to increase the lead yet again, putting Clearfield in a 21-0 gap.
Janocko’s team tried to get back into the game but the fourth quarter belonged to the team clad in grey and red.
Hoenstine would get his own rushing score right at the start of the quarter, capping off a quick four-play drive after forcing a Bison turnover on downs. Another minute later, he would connect on his third passing touchdown on the night, this one to a wide open Metzger for the go-ahead score. Smith booted the extra point, and the 35-0 gap would ensure the final 10 minutes would go uninterrupted except for penalties, turnovers, possession changes, and scores.
It would be the Bison getting the final score of the game when Brady Collins capped a huge sophomore season, in which he finished with close to 1500 yards rushing, with a two-yard plunge into the end zone. The extra point was botched on the snap, but it made little difference in the final outcome.
As Janocko addressed his team following the toughest loss of the season, seeing his players disheartened, and a few in tears, he knew that this team exceeded all expectations for the year, and where the program is heading.
“Most people didn’t expect us to be here, and I’m happy with how they played. We have seven or eight starters coming back next year on both sides of the ball. Most of the kids here are sophomores and freshmen; we had two freshmen starting in the secondary,” Janocko said. “I’m happy where we are at, program wise, and this has been a satisfying year. These kids just played so hard.
“You know, we faced a lot of adversity this year. Starting at Juniata, having to do that trip two days in a row, then injuries. It’s been like that the entire year. But we overcame, won the MAC, won a district title. I’m very satisfied with how we played this year.”
Clearfield’s season closes out at 8-4, their final season in the Mountain Athletic Conference. Beginning next year, the Bison, and the entire MAC, will join into the Laurel Highlands conference.
- Junior Carter Chamberlain eclipsed the 1000-yard mark for his career during the game
- Officials called 13 penalties for nearly 140 yards.
Clearfield 0 0 0 6 – 6
Central 14 0 7 14 – 35
- DRAGONS: 7-yard pass from Hoenstine to Lingenfelter (Smith kick), 3:33
- DRAGONS: 5-yard pass from Hoenstine to Lingenfelter (Smith kick), 0:29
- No scoring
- DRAGONS: 10-yard run by Smith (Smith kick), 3:17
- DRAGONS: 1-yard run by Hoenstine (Smith kick), 11:56
- DRAGONS: 8-yard pass fron Hoenstine to Metzger (Smith kick), 10:36
- BISON: 2-yard run by Collins (kick failed), 4:18
- First Downs: 11/13
- Rush Yards: 147/87
- Pass Yards: 7/222
- Total Yards: 154/309
- Penalties-Yards: 7-78/6-45
- Turnovers: 3/1
- Time of Possession: 27:54/20:06
- Clearfield: Collins-18 carries, 92 yards, TD; Chamberlain-10 carries, 22 yards; Freeland-9 carries, 54 yards; Curry-3 carries, 6 yards; Samsel-3 carries, (-23) yards; Graffius-1 carry, (-2) yards; Team-1 carry, (-2) yards.
- Central: Rhule-6 carries, 56 yards; Hoenstine-5 carries, 19 yards, TD; Smith-5 carries, 10 yards, TD; Baker-3 carries, 2 yards.
- Clearfield: Samsel-1 for 5, 7 yards, 2 INT.
- Central: Hoenstine-18 for 25, 222 yards, 3 TD, INT; Muthler-0 for 1.
- Clearfield: Knee-1 catch, 7 yards.
- Central: Lingenfelter-8 catches, 123 yards, 2 TD; Rhule-3 catches, 27 yards; Smith-2 catches, 27 yards; Daugherty-2 catches, 15 yards; Metzger-2 catches, 13 yards, TD; Yingling-1 catch, 22 yards.