By Rich Rhoades
DuBOIS — With the most of the District 9 football community continuing to look ahead for the next challenge for the Clarion Bobcats juggernaut, veteran head coach Larry Wiser dutifully answered a question about his team’s next foe, District 10 champion Lakeview.
“Lakeview is a very similar team to us,” said Wiser. “They have size and their running back is pretty fast from what I saw. It’ll be a challenge for us defensively to handle their running back and their offensive line, but we’re going to enjoy the heck out of this tonight.”
Who could blame him? The 13-0 Bobcats wrapped up their District 9 schedule by blasting their way to another lopsided win and ninth shutout of the year, this one claiming the Class A title with a 55-0 rout of Redbank Valley Saturday afternoon at E.J. Mansell Stadium.
The Bobcats won their third district title and first since 2009. They also ended stretch where they lost in four of the past five championship games, including last year’s 47-8 loss to Port Allegany. They’re now 3-8 in title games.
“I told them when we went out to scout (Lakeview’s 27-0 win over Sharpsville Friday night), they might want to leave me behind. I’m a jinx,” Wiser laughed. “I’ve had some great teams that have been here before and feel for those guys who didn’t get the trophy … We’ve had some tough endings, but overall I’m pretty proud to be the Clarion football coach and be part of this team again this year.”
After a brilliant opening act of Ian Corbett’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, it became the Damien Slike show. The senior fullback ran for 234 yards on 16 carries and scored four touchdowns, three of them on runs of 1, 24 and 46 yards in the Bobcats’ 28-point first quarter and a 21-yard run in the third quarter.
Slike is a TD machine this year. He hiked his season total to 40 overall, 36 of them rushing. He’s the first D9 player to score 40 or more TDs in the season since Dave Richards did it for Clearfield in 2002. Richards ran for 40 TDs that year and scored 45 overall.
“The real driving force I have to say is the offensive line,” said Slike, who ran his season total up to an unofficial 1,836 yards, unofficially breaking the school mark of 1,822 yards set by Kyle Cathcart in 2001. “They honestly open the biggest holes I’ve ever seen. You could drive a Mack truck through them. Everyone just plays their heart out every week and that’s why we’re doing so well because we’re playing as a team and not individuals.”
Slike was part of the last two squads that lost in the district finals, so he wasn’t minding the different post-game feeling.
“It feels amazing, because two years getting silver, that feels terrible when you get here and lose,” Slike said. “But getting here and getting the gold and holding it up with my team just felt amazing.”
Corbett added a 61-yard TD run that put the Bobcats up 35-0 with 1:45 left in the first half, guaranteeing the PIAA Mercy Rule’s running clock was going to be in motion to start the second half.
The Bobcats scored on five of their six possessions in the first half, not counting the kickoff return. In the second half, they intercepted Redbank Valley quarterback Jake Dougherty two straight plays and needed just three plays overall to score twice.
Two plays after Thomas Plummer picked off Dougherty and returned the ball to the Bulldogs’ 21, Slike scored on his 21-yarder. Then after Dougherty was picked off by Brendan Miller on Redbank Valley’s next offensive play, Bobcats quarterback John Katis hit Cody Hearst with a 28-yard TD pass.
Katis wasn’t needed for a Bobcats aerial attack this time around. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 84 yards. He still hasn’t been intercepted this year while throwing for 20 touchdowns.
Clarion’s final score came with the backups in the game. Caleb Bailey scored on a 1-yard run with 2:21 left.
Clarion wound up outgaining Redbank Valley, 481-183. The Bulldogs, who were blanked 50-0 back on Oct. 11, had one good shot at finding the end zone. Trying to take advantage of a Clarion turnover, the Bulldogs went 39 yards on seven plays to set up first-and-goal at the Bobcats’ 4. Even with two Clarion offside calls, the Bulldogs were stopped on downs at the 1 when Dougherty was stopped for no gain. Seven plays later, Corbett scored on his 61-yarder.
“That was a great goal line stand there. I’m so proud of them,” said Wiser, whose team tied the playoff-era record for shutouts in a season first established by Smethport in its PIAA Class A Championship game appearance back in 1992. “We got the turnovers and we’re excited to go to the next step here. The sky’s the limit for us if we keep doing the things we’ve been doing.”
Bulldogs senior running back Mark Strothers capped off a remarkable comeback season from serious knee injuries to both knees with 99 yards on 23 carries. He finished the year unofficially with 1,494 yards despite missing two games. Dougherty, still a junior, struggled to a 3-for-14 effort passing for 24 yards.
Regardless of the loss, it was quite a turnaround season for the Bulldogs, who finished 8-4. They were 1-8 last year and their seven-game win improvement was the best one-year turnaround in the program’s history.
NOTES – The 55 points were the most-ever in a District 9 title game regardless of classification … The previous high for points in a District 9 championship game was 51 set this year by Clearfield in a 51-7 win over Bradford in the sort of Class AAA title game (the winner didn’t advance anywhere – Clearfield still qualified for a subregional but the title game had little to no bearing on that). Fifty points were twice reached in Class AA with Brockway beating Brookville 50-0 in 2010 and Karns City topping Moniteau 50-14 in 2007. The previous high in Class A was 48 points scored by Coudersport in a 48-21 win over Curwensville in 2006 … Clarion’s season average of 55.3 ppg is the most-ever by a D9 team through the District 9 championship round surpassing the 53 ppg scored by Port Allegany through 12 games last year … It was Clarion’s third straight title-game appearance and the fifth in six years for the Bobcats. Wiser is now 5-for-his-last-5 in title-game appearances. The long-time Clarion sideline boss took the 2010 season off, and Clarion lost in the first round of the playoffs … Redbank Valley was making its first title game appearance ever in Class A and its first title-game appearance since 2004 when it lost the Class AA title to Brookville. The Bulldogs haven’t won a District 9 title since taking home the 1996 Class AA championship with a 7-0 win over Port Allegany … Snow started falling at DuBois in the first half, and a dusting covered the field before the end of the half. But it was nothing like the 3 or 4 inches of snow at Bradford before the title game last season. DuBois was prepared for the snow, and cleared the field at 5-yard intervals at halftime … Slike unofficially topped 3,000 career rushing yards Saturday as well with 3,027 … Ian Corbett now unofficially has 1,091 yards on the season giving Clarion two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in school history.
Editor’s note – Chris Rossetti contributed the note’s section of this story
CLARION 55, REDBANK VALLEY 0
Score By Quarters
Redbank Valley 0 0 0 0 – 0
Clarion 28 7 14 6 – 55
C – Ian Corbett 99 kickoff return (kick failed), 11:43.
C – Damien Slike 1 run (Slike run), 8:14.
C – Damien Slike 24 run (Antonio Troese kick), 4:47.
C – Damien Slike 46 run (Antonio Troese kick), 1:06.
C – Ian Corbett 61 run (Antonio Troese kick), 1:45.
C – Damien Slike 21 run (Antonio Troese kick), 9:22.
C – Cody Hearst 28 pass from John Katis (Antonio Troese kick), 8:17.
C – Caleb Bailey 1 run (run failed), 2:21.
First Downs 18 9
Rushes-Yards 36-398 38-159
Passing: Comp-Att-Int 5-8-0 4-18-2
Passing Yards 83 24
Total Yards 481 183
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 3-1
Punts-Avg 0-0 4-23.5
Penalties-Yards 9-69 4-30
RUSHING — Clarion: Damien Slike 16-234, Ian Corbett 8-109, Ben Babington 3-28, Caleb Bailey 3-16, Tyler Allen 1-12, Taylor Smith 1-7, Tanner Corbett 2-4, Cody Hearst 1-(-4), John Katis 1-(-8). Redbank Valley: Mark Strothers 23-99, Jake Dougherty 5-26, Kaven Hornberger 3-16, Jared Kespelher 3-12, Mitch Blose 1-5, Curtis Mohney 2-1, Colten Mohney 1-0.
PASSING — Clarion: John Katis 4-for-7, 84 yards, 1 TD; Antonio Troese 1-for-2, minus-1 yards. Redbank Valley: Jake Dougherty 4-for-18, 24 yards, 2 Ints.
RECEIVING — Clarion: Cody Hearst 4-66, Damien Slike 1-17. Redbank Valley: Mitch Blose 1-11, Kaven Hornberger 1-6, Quentin Brocious 1-4, Kyle Shrecongost 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS: Clarion: Brendan Miller, Thomas Plummer.