Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning couldn’t fault his team’s effort.
But he couldn’t help but feel disappointed his team wasn’t tied at halftime.
The Red Raiders had matched Clearfield for the first two quarters behind its two-headed rushing attack and a physical defensive effort to go into the break trailing by seven points. But they failed to capitalize on a pair of drives into the red zone, and Manning knew his team would only get so many opportunities playing on the road against the top-seeded Bison in the District 6-9 Class AAAA semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Red Raiders (5-6) couldn’t keep pace in the second half and suffered a season-ending 34-7 loss Friday night. Clearfield (10-1) will ride a 10-game winning streak into the district championship game next week to face No. 2 seed Johnstown, which beat DuBois 48-24 on Friday night, at a site and time to be determined.
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For Manning, Bellefonte’s competitive effort in the first half was another sign of the program’s growth.
“The gap’s shrinking,” said Manning, who led the Red Raiders to the postseason for the first time since 2010. “It’s shrinking. Bellefonte is shrinking that gap. We’re trying to close it and we’ve been every year, a little bit closer, a little bit closer and a little bit closer. We just got to keep fighting.”
Bellefonte put up a fight in the first two quarters against the dynamic Bison offense, stopping a pair of drives on fourth-down conversion attempts.
The offense executed throughout the first half, too, as quarterback Tyler Kreger and running back Dexter Gallishaw gashed Clearfield’s defense on the ground.
Gallishaw broke off a 21-yard run to set up first-and-10 at the 20-yard line in the first quarter, but the drive stalled and ended with a missed field-goal attempt.
After Clearfield broke the scoreless tie on a six-yard touchdown run by Seth Caldwell in the second quarter, the Red Raiders responded with their first score on a 45-yard run by Gallishaw.
Gallishaw ran for 89 of his 117 yards and Kreger rushed for 94 of his 106 yards in the first half to power the Bellefonte offense.
“We knew going into it we were going to have to run the ball at ‘em and we weren’t going to be afraid of ‘em,” Kreger said. “We just tried to run it down their throat.”
The plan continued to work with the score tied 7-7 and the offense back on the field after Clearfield’s second failed fourth-down conversion of the half. Kreger found a seam and went 40 yards, and a three-yard run by Gallishaw moved Bellefonte to the 19.
This time, a holding penalty killed momentum. Kreger then threw an interception on a screen pass on third-and-20.
Two plays later, Clearfield quarterback Isaac Rumery connected with Ryan Lezzer on a 51-yard touchdown pass to push their team ahead 14-7 with 2:40 left in the half.
Despite the missed opportunities, Bellefonte went into halftime within striking distance.
“Our plan was just to come out, play our hearts out, and I think that’s what we did the first half,” Kreger said. “They just made a couple plays the second half that broke things loose.”
Clearfield made the backbreaking play immediately.
On the first play of the half, Rumery rolled to his left and connected with Micah Heichel on a deep ball for a 68-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-7.
“He’s a sophomore so he had some growing pains early in the season,” Clearfield coach Tim Janocko said of Rumery, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 214 yards. “He’s improved a great deal.”
Clearfield outscored Bellefonte 20-0 after halftime to end the Red Raiders’ season.
“We played our guts out,” Kreger said. “I think this will really show the community that Bellefonte football’s starting to come back and we’re headed in the right direction.”