WINGATE — The Clearfield football team fell behind top-seeded Bellefonte 21-0 early in the second quarter of Friday evening’s District 6-9 class 4A title game at Bald Eagle Area’s Alumni Stadium and looked to be on its way to a blowout loss to the Red Raiders.
But the young Bison battled back, tying things up at 21-21 when quarterback Oliver Billotte found Nick Domico for a 14-yard TD pass with 3:45 left in the third quarter.
Unfortunately the Bison comeback was spoiled by the Red Raiders, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to win the game 35-21.
“Our kids fought,” Clearfield head coach Tim Janocko said. “We had our chances there in the fourth quarter but they made a couple more plays than we did. But I’m happy with the way our kids fought and came back.
“We didn’t have Jake Lezzer, we lost Matt Pallo in the first quarter (to injury) and thats tough. But that’s football and our kids fought though it. It was a good football game.”
CJ Funk and Ethan Rossman each scored fourth-quarter touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
Funk capped a 4-play, 55-yard drive with a 16-yard score at 10:45 to give the Raiders a 28-21 lead and Rossman finished off a 12-play, 84-yard drive with an 11-yard run with 2:06 left to play.
Bellefonte rushed for 365 yards on 41 carries and every yard on the decisive fourth-quarter drives came on the ground. Rossman picked up 114 yards on 10 carries, while Funk ran 18 times for 182 yards.
The Red Raiders wasted little time putting points on the board in the first quarter, taking the football 63 yards on six plays on the opening drive with Nick Capparrelle carrying it the final 17 on a reverse to make it 7-0 just 2:22 into the game.
Clearfield went three and out on its first series as a pair of 5-yard penalties pushed it back and forced a punt from its own 35.
Bellefonte took over at the Raider 29 and marched 71 yards on five plays.
Rossman finished the drive off with a 32-yard run to put his team on top 14-0 with 7:23 left in the first.
Clearfield got its offense going on the next series behind the power running of Brett Zattoni and a short passing game that helped moved the chains.
When Billotte connected with Matt Pallo for a 9-yard gain late in the drive, Clearfield had the ball first and goal on the Raider 2.
But a procedure penalty pushed the Bison back to the 6 a play after Zattoni moved the ball to the one. Zattoni ran for 3 and 2 yards on the next two plays and the Bison went for it on fourth and goal from the 1.
Billotte was stopped at the line of scrimmage by the Bellefonte defense and the Raiders took over at their own 2-yard line.
Aided by a 36-yard run by Funk and back-to-back Rossman totes of 25 and 14 yards, the Raiders navigated 98 yards on just seven plays and Jalen Emel took the ball the final 6 yards to give Bellefonte what looked like a commanding 21-0 lead with 9:02 left in the first half.
But Clearfield once again methodically moved the ball behind Zattoni runs and short Billotte passes and found itself in a familiar situation on the Raider 1-yard line.
This time, on third-and-goal, Zattoni plowed into the end zone, carrying several Raiders with him to put the Bison on the board with 4:34 left before the half.
“There were some things that went wrong there in the first quarter, but our kids didn’t flinch,” Janocko said. “And we had five sophomores starting on defense. We’re going to be OK. 9-3 with a pretty young team coming off of last year ... we’re going to be OK.”
Clearfield’s young defense came up with a big play moments later when Hayden Kovalick intercepted a Rossman pass, giving the Bison the ball at the Bellefonte 40.
Eight snaps later, Billotte powered in from a yard out with 43 seconds left in the half and just like that Clearfield was back in the game.
Billotte connected with Karson Kline on a pair of chain-moving pass plays in the drive. Kline led the Bison with eight catches for 71 yards.
Clearfield got the ball to start the second half and picked up a first down on a 16-yard Zattoni run before the drive stalled at midfield.
Zattoni, who carried 18 times for 79 yards, went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season on the play.
Zach Hess pinned the Raiders at their own 9 with a nice punt and the Bison defense dropped Bellefonte for a 7-yard loss on the next play.
The loss and a penalty were too much for the Raiders to overcome and Bellefonte had to punt back to Clearfield.
The kick traveled just 19 yards, giving the Bison the ball at the Raider 37.
Bellefonte forced a Bison punt three plays later, but a 15-yard penalty for roughing the snapper gave Clearfield new life, moving the ball all the way to the 20.
Two plays later, Billotte found Nick Domico for a 14-yard TD pass and Hess’ extra point tied the game at 21-21 with 3:45 left in the third quarter.
The teams traded punts and Bellefonte took over at its own 45 early in the fourth quarter.
That’s when Funk and Rossman took over the game.
The duo alternated carries on the quick 4-play drive that ended with Funk’s 16-yard score and, after Clearfield’s next possession stalled out around midfield, Funk and Rossman did nearly all the damage on the clinching 84-yard drive.
Clearfield had moved to the Raider 41 following Funk’s touchdown, but a fumbled snap cost the Bison 12 yards and they could not convert on third-and-22, forcing a punt.
The Red Raiders improved to 10-2 with the win and move into the PIAA playoffs next week.
Clearfield ends its season with a record of 9-3.
“We had a great year,” Janocko said. “We improved throughout the year and there’s a lot to build on.”