When Clearfield travels to Bald Eagle Area this week, running the football figures to be a key ingredient to either team’s success.
It might be Senior Night, but the game will feature two electric ball carriers in juniors Christian Lezzer from Clearfield (7-0) and Dakota Bartley from BEA (5-2).
Last week, Lezzer rushed 34 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the Bison’s 14-13 win over Tyrone. Bartley was equally impressive, rushing for 162 yards on 23 carries in the Eagles’ 35-26 win over Huntingdon.
Both coaches have a mutual respect for the other’s lead rusher.
“I mean, he’s just a tough, physical kid,” said Eagles coach Jack Tobias. “You’re not seeing too many quarterbacks that can line up as a lead blocker some plays and then turn around and you see him coming in at (defensive end) and flying in there. He’s just one of those kids that’s a very special player.”
“Well they can put some points on the board,” said Bison head coach Tim Janocko. “They’re 5-2, playing at home, and Jack’s done a good job with the team. Their running back has great speed. They have some good skill people so it should be a good football game.”
Each defense had trouble last week against the run, so both Lezzer and Bartley could have big days.
Tyrone’s running back, James Oliver, rushed 28 times for 134 yards, though his team fell to the Bison. Meanwhile, Huntingdon’s lead rusher, Devon Claar, had 116 yards on 27 carries against the Eagles.
Both coaches know the key to the contest is controlling the line of scrimmage. For both offenses it’s about getting their runners free in open space. For both defenses, it’s about freedom for their linebackers to come in clean and disrupt the play in the backfield.
Last year, the Bison won the battle, demolishing the Eagles 49-14 while rushing 41 times for 229 yards. Janocko’s defense also forced two fumbles in that game and last week he was reminded of how important it is to protect the ball.
“We kind of hurt ourselves in the second half because we were up 14-0 and we’re on our 10 yard line and we fumble the ball,” Janocko said. “That’s how we left Tyrone in the game last week ... because we didn’t protect the ball. ... We’ve been pretty good with it all year, it’s just one of those things last week where we had a couple letdowns.”
The Eagles also had their share of turnovers last week. Three fumbles nearly cost them the game against Huntingdon.
“We tried everything possible to give the ball away,” Tobias said. “But the defense responded in those situations in a couple critical places. They fought back when those things did happen and didn’t get frustrated.”
Tobias gives credit to his seniors for their leadership as some have been through tough seasons with the Eagles’ program and are now 5-2 for the first time in years. Against the Bison, Tobias hopes getting a win on Senior Night would be the perfect sendoff.
“When you get five wins in a season for the first time since ’94 or ’95,” Tobias said, “for them to keep coming back every year to help change the perspective of the program, and the way they’ve done things this year, I’ve just been really happy with them.”