By Rich Rhoades
MIL HALL — By reaching the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals, the Clearfield Bison will naturally have their hands full with a worthy opponent Friday night at Central Mountain High School.
This week, it’s the 13-0 Berwick Bulldogs with a 7 p.m. kickoff as the also 13-0 Bison make their third appearance in the state quarterfinals and third in Class AAA. They last made the quarters in 2010 when they lost to Allentown Central Catholic, 55-20.
Berwick is one of the state’s historic football programs and it has its legendary coach back on the sideline. George Curry, who retired in 2007 from Wyoming Valley-West with 413 career wins and most of those at Berwick, returned to Berwick last year.
The Bulldogs won six state titles from 1988 to 1997, including four straight from 1994-97 when they put together a 41-game winning streak. Berwick was USA Today’s No. 1 team nationally in 1983, 1992 and 1995, all under Curry.
But that was then and this is now where the Bulldogs won their first District 2 title since 2008. In last weekend’s state opener, Berwick squeezed by Bethlehem Catholic, 29-27. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 6 by the Pennsylvania Football News and No. 7 by the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
Curry’s grandson C.J. Curry is the second-year starting quarterback. He’s passed for 2,032 yards with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. His top receivers are Andrew Force (31 catches, 762 yards, 8 TDs), a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior, and senior Kyle Trenholm (30-545, 6 TDs).
The Bulldogs are somewhat balanced, though, as the team averages 159 yards passing and 211 yards rushing. Seniors Dain Kowalski (126 carries, 856 yards, 17 TDs) and Jordan Stout (119-662, 11 TDs), a 6-foot-1, 230-pound fullback, do the bulk of the backfield work.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have given up just 10.8 points and 193 yards per game (85 passing, 108 rushing). Kowaski, a defensive back, leads the team with 64 tackles. Linebackers Zach Andress, a junior, and senior A.J. Vandermark lead the team with seven and six sacks respectively.
The Bulldogs sport a female place-kicker. Junior Olivia Seely, in her second year, has made 60 of 61 point-after kicks with one field goal.
Meanwhile, the Bison are looking to get past the quarterfinal round for the first time ever. Head coach Tim Janocko’s squad advanced with a solid 27-8 win over Jersey Shore last week as Christian Lezzer and Tyler Stratton each ran for over 100 yards.
They’ll likely be the focus of the Bison offense — and Berwick defensive game plan — as it tries to generate some points. Lezzer went over 4,000 career yards two weeks ago to join former Bison standout Dave Richards in that exclusive club. He’s at 4,207 yards and 65 rushing TDs and 70 overall. This year, he’s rushed for 1,895 yards and 32 TDs while throwing for 615 yards, completing 27 of 65 passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
Stratton has rushed for 1,218 yards and 20 touchdowns and he still leads the team in receiving with 12 receptions for 289 yards. Against Jersey Shore, Stratton caught Lezzer’s only completion for 38 yards.
As a team, the Bison have given up 12.7 points and 218 yards (125 rushing, 93 passes) per game. Senior linebacker Seth Ford is the top tackler with 116 stops. Junior linebacker Nick Kovalick has 93 tackles. Sophomore defensive back Jake Wingate has seven interceptions.
Against Jersey Shore, Ford and junior defensive back Erik Sellers led the team with 13 and 10 tackles respectively. Sellers and Lezzer made interceptions while Lezzer and Wingate recovered fumbles.
NOTES: The Bison are not ranked by the Patriot-News and listed No. 10 by the Pennsylvania Football News. … Janocko is the winningest coach in District 9 history, taking a 229-95-3 record into Friday’s game. The Bison are 7-9 lifetime in PIAA playoff games, all under Janocko. … Clearfield’s other state quarterfinal appearances were in 1994 (Class AAAA, 48-6 loss to Erie Central) and 2002 (Class AAA, 61-0 loss to Perry). … Friday’s winner meets either District 12 champion Archbishop Wood (10-2) or District 1 champion Academy Park (10-2) in next week’s semifinals. Those two play Friday in Philadelphia. In the other half of the state bracket, WPIAL champion West Allegheny (13-0) takes on District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (12-0) and Bishop McDevitt (12-1) meets Manheim Central (13-0) in the District 3 final. According to the Patriot-News and the PA Football News, Cathedral Prep is the No. 1 team in the state.