The Bellefonte football team has made a habit of falling behind its opponents early in games this season only to claw its way back on top more often than not.
But the Red Raiders dug a hole they couldn’t get out of Friday evening at E.J. Mansell Stadium, spotting Clearfield a 21-0 lead before falling to the Bison 49-21 in the District 6-9 class 4A title game. Bellefonte also fell behind the Bison 21-0 in the Week 5 regular season matchup in an identical 49-21 loss.
“It’s really hard to dig yourself out once you get there,” Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning said. “We knew that we were going to be in that spot. You could tell by the way things were going early. We do it every week. We were down by 12 or more four different times this year and found ways to come back.
“They’re a tough, resilient group of kids,” he added. “They just are. I’ll miss them.”
Clearfield went up 7-0 thanks to a 5-play, 57-yard opening drive that culminated in a Brett Zattoni 19-yard run. Zattoni had 136 yards and two TDs.
The Bison didn’t need to cover much ground on their next two possessions as a fake punt by Bellefonte that didn’t convert and a Raider turnover set them up in prime real estate at the visitors’ 32- and 34-yard line, respectively. Clearfield took advantage of the field position on both occasions, getting an 8-yard Zattoni run and a 6-yard Caleb Freeland score to go on top 21-0 with 2:34 left in the first quarter.
“We didn’t play our best game tonight,” Manning said. “We just didn’t play the best we could possibly play and Clearfield is a really good team.”
After Bellefonte’s first three possessions totaled nine plays for 4 yards, the Raiders found some success on offense by running quarterback Kyle Myers on sweeps and waggles. Myers led Bellefonte on a 12-play, 85-yard drive, picking up 60 yards rushing on seven carries and tossing a 14-yard TD pass to Noah Badger to cut the Raider deficit to 21-7 with 9:59 left in the second quarter.
Coincidentally, Myers and Badger connected on a 12-yard score in the second quarter of the Week 5 regular season meeting that also made the score 21-7. But while the Raider offense started having success, the Bellefonte D had no answer for the Bison, who scored touchdowns on all six first-half drives.
Quarterback Isaac Rumery made it 27-7 with a 6-yard TD run at 8:28 after keying the series with consecutive 26-yard plays, one a pass to Taye Lynch and the other a run that got the ball deep into the red zone. Freeland scored his second touchdown of the game at 5:06 on a 31-yard scamper, and Rumery hit Lynch with a 2-point conversion to make it 35-7.
Bellefonte got in the end zone again late in the second quarter on a 1-yard run from Myers after he and Mason Grey traded carries on the 6-play, 56-yard drive. Myers finished with a game-high 156 yards on 29 carries as the featured runner, with leading rusher C.J. Funk out of action with an injury.
“Kyle Myers played as hard as he could possibly play,” Manning said. “He gave everything he could give. I’m proud of him. He’s come a long way this year. He’s worked very hard. He almost lost his job two times this year but he is very resilient and he kept battling back. I’m real proud of him.”
Clearfield answered before the end of the half with a quick, 4-play drive that started with Rumery hitting Jake Lezzer for a 45-yard gain and ended with the Bison signal-caller bulling in from the 1-yard line with 59 seconds left before the break.
Rumery had 50 yards rushing and two scores and hit on six of his nine pass attempts for 129 yards. Lezzer went over the 1,000-yard mark receiving on the season on his 45-yard reception. Zattoni also hit the century mark for the Bison, eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing for the season. He has 1,015 yards, while backfield mate Freeland has 961.
The Bison and Raiders each scored one second-half TD. Freeland scored his third touchdown on a 20-yard scamper in the third quarter and Grey had a 9-yard run with 1:24 left in the game. Clearfield piled up 309 yards rushing and had 438 total yards, while Bellefonte had just 228 total yards.
Bellefonte ends its season with a record of 9-3 and, while the loss hurts, it’s the finality of the season that Manning finds the most painful.
“You don’t have the opportunity to coach that group of kids again,” he said. “You relish those months you get to spend with those kids and then it’s gone. That’s the part that’s the worst.
“Next year, I’ll get the questions, ‘How do you replace Kyle Myers, how do you replace Caleb Rockey?’ and I’ll say the same thing as I did this year. You don’t replace Dylan Deitrich. You don’t replace Cade Fortney. You just hope you have enough in the program. It’s a program now. The kids come in with expectations to win.”