By Rich Rhoades
HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Clearfield Bison have won 11 District 9 titles, but no sub-regional crown. There’s one on the line Friday night when head coach Tim Janocko’s squad takes on Somerset at Hollidaysburg High School.
It’s the second year of the District 5-6-8-9 Class AAA sub-regional setup. Last year, the Bison lost to University Prep in the finals. This year, they’re back again after taking care of Johnstown last week, 42-7, keeping their unbeaten season perfect at 11-0.
Meanwhile, Somerset (10-1) knocked off University Prep, 28-20, last week for its first playoff win since 1989.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me,” said Janocko of Somerset’s win. “Somerset is a really good football team and they played them tough last year. They have everybody back from last year. They’re a quality football team.”
The Bison have been solid all season, averaging 43.6 points per game and giving up 13.7 points per game. Offensively, it’s been more about running than any other season as the Bison have thrown just 76 passes. However, they’ve made the most of their attempts with 778 yards an impressive number with the few throws.
“We lost Trey Jordan last year, one of the top receivers in the state with his numbers, and there were a couple other guys we lost who were good,” Janocko said. “A lot of our receivers are younger and they’ve developed as the season has gone on. We’ve thrown the ball effectively, but just not as much.”
Senior Christian Lezzer, bound for Boston College next fall to play linebacker, threw for 1,445 yards and 20 touchdowns a year ago, but he’s only 24-of-50 this year for five touchdowns. One thing he’s always done is run the ball well as he’s rushed for 1,567 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Lezzer’s career numbers put him in elite company, especially as quarterbacks go. He’s rushed for 3,879 yards and 62 touchdowns while passing for 2,012 yards and 26 scores.
“He’s a big, strong kid and he’s athletic, so any time you put the ball in his hands, it’s not a mistake,” Janocko said. “We just try to see what we have, and we have a good offensive line, and take it from there.”
Junior Erik Sellers has thrown for 232 yards in some action behind center. He’s 12-for-26 with two touchdowns.
Lezzer isn’t the only running threat for the Bison, who have senior Tyler Stratton on the verge of going into 1,000-yard territory with 992 yards and 17 touchdowns. Freshman Seth Caldwell has rushed for 748 yards and seven touchdowns.
Somerset doesn’t boast the big numbers like the Bison, but show some balance with mostly a running game leading the way. The Eagles have used two quarterbacks with senior Tanner Stull (583 yards, 7 TDs) and sophomore Dylan Barnes (732 yards, 5 TDs).
Stull started last week and threw for 71 yards and two scores while running for 129 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown. For the season, he’s rushed for a team-best 835 yards and 10 touchdowns. Barnes has 558 yards and eight touchdowns while senior Matthew Boyer has rushed for 479 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Their quarterback is a dual threat,” Janocko said. “He runs the ball but is very accurate throwing. They have two good receivers and their tight end has 25 catches. They’re very balanced and have a big fullback (Boyer at 5-11, 240 pounds) they can run the ball with.”
Junior tight end Bryce Mostoller (6-3, 240) has 25 catches for 435 yards with four touchdowns. Three other receivers have 10 or more receptions and a touchdown.
Somerset beat University Prep with a strong defensive effort as it built a 22-0 first-half advantage. The Eagles were able to sack 3,000-yard passer Ronald Brown four times and intercept him twice while forcing four lost fumbles overall for Prep.
Mostoller paces the Eagles at defensive end, leading the team with six sacks. Junior linebacker Logan Eller leads the team with 11.9 tackles per game. Against Prep, he made 10 tackles with an interception.
For the Bison defensively, senior linebacker Seth Ford leads the team with 8.7 tackles per game with junior Nick Kovalick making 7.5 stops per game. Sophomore safety Jake Wingate has five interceptions.
“Our defensive line has played very well and we have four, five guys who rotate and our linebackers have done a nice job,” Janocko said. “We’ve moved Christian around at linebacker, corner and safety and when Tyler Stratton is healthy (at corner), he’s a force. When you look at it, a large part of the year, we had two freshmen and a sophomore in the secondary.”
The Bison usually have a good kicking game and this year is no different. Junior Spencer Herrington has made four field goals and 60 of 61 point-after kicks.
NOTES: Janocko is the district’s winningest coach with a career record of 227-95-3 in his 29th season. In the postseason, he’s 19-20, including a 13-11 record in district or regional games. … Lezzer is the nephew of former record-breaking Bison quarterback Chad Kroell, who led Clearfield to its first district title back in 1994. … Friday’s winner plays the District 4 champion in next week’s state playoff round. Jersey Shore (5-6) visits Selinsgrove (6-5) in the championship game Friday night. … The winner of next week’s matchup would then meet either the District 11 or District 2 champion in the state quarterfinals Nov. 29 or 30. The district finals in both of those districts — Southern Lehigh (10-1) vs. Bethlehem Catholic (7-4) in District 11 and Berwick (11-0) vs. Abington Heights (10-1) in District 2 — are being played Saturday.