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Class 3A sub-regional: Bison vs. Bisons, yes really

Clearfield head coach Tim Janocko, talking to his team after a game, has his Bison taking on District 5's unbeaten Bedford Bisons Friday night at the Bison Sports Complex.

HYDE, Pa. — There’s never been a Bison vs. Bisons matchup on the football field and the first one will determine a state playoff berth.

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It’s the Clearfield Bison vs. Bedford Bisons Friday night at the Bison Sports Complex with a 7 p.m. kickoff. The sub-regional final between the District 9 Class 3A champions coming off a 40-31 win over St. Marys last week faces the District 5 Bisons of Bedford, which had no opponent to face for a district title.

Clearfield, which went by Bisons as well until the last handful of years, takes a 4-1 record into the game while Bedford is 7-0. Friday’s winner gets the District 6 champion — Tyrone plays Central-Martinsburg Saturday at Altoona’s Mansion Park at 7 p.m. — Nov. 6 or 7 at a site and time to be determined.

The Bison had a slow start to the season, considering they were 1-0 going into October. After opening with a 27-0 win over Penns Valley in their opener, two weeks were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

A win over Philipsburg-Osceola (42-6) was followed by their only loss at Central-Martinsburg, 25-21, on Oct. 9. The Bison wrapped up their “regular season” with a 42-14 rout of Huntingdon before beating St. Marys last week.

Clearfield head coach Tim Janocko heads into the game with a 293-115-3 career record, the most wins ever by a D9 coach. His Bison lost to Bellefonte in last year’s D6-9 Class 3A final after beating the Red Raiders in 2018 before to earn the last trip to the state tournament, which ended the next game with a 55-21 loss to Cathedral Prep.

This year’s abbreviated schedule has the Bison averaging 325 yards per game offensively — 190 passing, 135 rushing — with junior quarterback Oliver Billotte leading the way. He’s thrown for 921 yards (56-for-98) with 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions. Billotte also leads the team in rushing with 202 yards on 39 carries with five TDs.

Jason Plubell (36-139, 1 TD) and Mark McGonigal (42-184, 4 TDs) will also get carries.

Jake Lezzer (27-511, 4 TDs) and Karson Kline (13-186, 3 TDs) are Billotte’s top receivers.

Defensively, the Bison allow 266 yards per game — 161 passing, 105 rushing — with much of that influenced by giving up 479 yards in last week’s win over St. Marys.

Senior Nic Domico (6.2 tackles per game), Isaac Samsel (5.0), Jose Alban (4.5) and Hayden Kovalick (3.8) are Clearfield’s leading tacklers. Nate Natoli leads the unit with three interceptions.

Senior Graeson Graves gives the Bison a strong kicking game. He’s averaging 39.2 yards per punt and he’s converted on 23 of 24 extra points while booting two field goals.

Bedford won last year’s District 5/8 Class 3A sub-regional title in a 26-0 win over Westinghouse — Clearfield was in Class 4A — and then dropped its state opener to D6 champion Bald Eagle Area, which had beaten Clearfield 36-28 during the regular season. 

This year, they’ve piled up plenty of points in their perfect season thus far, averaging 41.3 points while giving up 11 per game. They’ve beaten Chestnut Ridge (35-7), Richland (27-20), Westmont Hilltop (28-0), Forest Hills (49-6), Cambria Heights (36-7), Penn Cambria (50-25) and Johnstown (64-12).

The Bisons have much of their roster back from last year’s run as they average 41.3 points and 394 yards of offense per game — 239 rushing and 155 passing.

Junior quarterback Mercury Swaim is the triggerman. He’s thrown for 1,054 yards (62-for-101) with 12 TDs and three interceptions while leading the team in rushing (61-626), averaging 10.3 yards per carry with 11 TDs.

Steven Ressler (33-298, 4 TDs) and Elijah Cook (47-215) also get carries while Ressler (31-496, 6 TDs) and Gregory Edwards (18-337, 2 TDs) are Swaim’s top targets.

Defensively, Ashton Dull (6.1), Cook (5.9) and Spencer Ebersole (5.4) lead the team in tackles per game.

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