HYDE — Clearfield set the tone early in Friday’s District 6-9 class 4A semifinal with a suffocating defense and an efficient offense, taking a quick 14-0 first-quarter lead before rolling to a 35-7 victory over Juniata.
The Bison forced a three-and-out on Juniata’s first possession, pushing the Indians back on each play, dropping the visitors for losses of 2, 4 and 20 yards, then picked off a pass on the third play of the second series.
After both possession changes, Clearfield’s offense struck quickly, going on 5- and 3-play scoring drives to take a 14-0 lead with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
“That set the tone for the whole game,” Clearfield head coach Tim Janocko said.
“Obviously once you have momentum and can stick with your momentum, it’s tough to bounce back,” Juniata head coach Kurt Condo said. “Clearfield is obviously Clearfield. They are good. They’re talented. They’re strong. They’re physical. They’re well-coached.
“That’s a very good football team and they’re overall young. Hopefully our young guys learn from the type of team they just played here. When you get to this level you have to be able to compete with them and be tough.”
After Bison defensive lineman Allan Myers forced Indian quarterback Jacob Condo to ground the ball on third and 6 on the third play from scrimmage, Juniata was forced to punt from its 2-yard line after the 20-yard loss.
The punt covered 48 yards, pushing Clearfield back to midfield, but back-to-back sweeps and a 15-yard Oliver Billotte to Karson Kline connection had Clearfield knocking on the door at the Indian 19.
After Brett Zattoni powered up the middle for nine yards, the Bison went to the outside again, pitching the ball on a jet sweep to Jose Alban, who got the corner and dove into the end zone between two Juniata defenders to give Clearfield a 7-0 lead after Zach Hess’ PAT.
Clearfield made good use of its speed, going to the outside often early in the game before leaning on its offensive line and Zattoni pounding the ball as the game wore on.
Zattoni had 108 yards on 13 carries to lead the Clearfield ground game, which amassed 227 yards on 36 runs.
“We definitely had some speed going for us and I thought our offensive line just played an outstanding game,” Janocko said. “And our defense was just a lockdown, shutdown defense.”
After Nick Domico intercepted Condo on a deflected ball on the second series, Clearfield took over at the Indians’ 33.
Three plays later, Zattoni rumbled in from 17 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
Juniata picked up its initial first down on the first play of the next possession when Caleb Seeger ran for 13 yards. Condo found Garrett Kint for a 9-yard completion on the next play and Jamie Bailer followed that with a 4-yard run to pick up another first down, moving the ball across midfield.
But the Bison defense stiffened and Juniata went for it on fourth down.
Condo was picked off by Matt Pallo, who returned the ball all the way back to the Juniata 32, but he fumbled as he was tackled and the Indians recovered, giving them new life.
Juniata quickly moved back to midfield on a Condo to Bailer connection. But the drive again stalled and Pallo knocked away Condo’s fourth down pass to Emmannuel O’Donnell, causing the Indians to turn the ball over on downs.
It took the Bison seven plays to navigate 59 yards with Zattoni scoring from 14 yards out to make it 21-0 with 6:30 left in the half..
“We just couldn’t consistently get anything going,” Coach Condo said. “As soon as we thought we had something, it wasn’t there the next time. We had a real problem getting some positive yardage there at the beginning. Their speed was, by far, superior to us. That definitely hurt us.”
Juniata went for it on fourth down again on its next possession, but fumbled the ball on the center exchange and Myers pounced on it to give the Bison offense another go, this time from their own 43.
After Jason Plubell ran for 12 yards and a first down, Billotte connected with Logan Firanski and Pallo on consecutive chain-moving passes. The Pallo reception covered 26 yards and set the Bison up at the Indian 3.
Zattoni powered in to the end zone on the next play and Hess hit the fourth of his five PATs to make it 28-0 with 2:25 remaining in the second quarter.
Juniata went three-and-out on the following series and pinned the Bison at their 1-yard line after a booming 58-yard punt. Clearfield ran two plays and went to the half with the 28-0 lead.
The Bison received the second-half kick and marched 59 yards in eight plays with Plubell getting the payoff on a 7-yard TD run with 8:32 left in the third quarter.
The Hess PAT made it 35-0 and put the Mercy Rule in effect.
During the drive, Billotte hit Pallo on a 36-yard post pattern to convert a second-and-21 a play after he was sacked for an 11-yard loss. It was the only negative-yardage play the Bison had in the game.
“We played well in all three facets, offensively, defensively and special teams,” Janocko said. “It was a complete game.”
Clearfield’s next drive started at its own 35 and moved as far as the Indian 4, but Juniata was able to stop the Bison on four tries from inside the 5, taking over on downs with about eight minutes left in the game.
The Indians spoiled the Bison shutout attempt when Condo hit O’Donnell on a 65-yard TD pass with 5:00 left in the game.
“What I’m really happy about is we played five sophomores on defense and we almost pitched a shutout,” Janocko said. “I’m ecstatic about that.”
Clearfield had 19 first downs to the Indians’ 9 and rolled up 337 total yards, while Juniata had 178.
Kint led the Indians’ rushing attack with 27 yards on four carries, but Juniata only had 67 yards as a team on the ground on 34 tries. The Indians were stopped for no gain or thrown for a loss on 16 of their 34 rushing attempts.
“All their skill positions, they were overall faster than us and on their line they were stronger than us,” Condo said. “Like I said, I hope our guys can learn from this and we can develop into a program down the road. If we have intentions of getting to the playoffs every year, we’ve got some learning to do.”
Juniata finished its season with a record of 4-7.
The Bison improved to 9-2 and advance to play top-seeded Bellefonte in the District 6-9 class 4A title game at a site and time to be determined.
“You want to try to hit your stride this time of year,” Janocko said. “It’s November. We’re playing for a 9-6 championship and it doesn’t get any better than that ... playing football in November.”
EXTRA POINTS: Billotte was 6-of-8 for 110 yards ... Pallo caught two passes for 60 yards ... Plubell ran six times for 39 yards, while McGonigal carried six times for 25 yards ... Firanski (2-21), Alban (2-20) and Ian Billotte (1-11) added solid yardage on sweeps ... Clearfield was only penalized one time for five yards, while Juniata was whistled for just two fouls for 15 yards ... Juniata averaged 46 yards per boot on three punts. The Bison did not punt in the game.