Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning had “zero” hesitation when faced with a pivotal fourth-and-two decision inside Clearfield territory Friday night as the Red Raiders had the chance to ice their second district title in three years at Bald Eagle Area’s Alumni Stadium.
And why would Manning have any reservations when he had C.J. Funk waiting to get the job done one more time.
Funk made roadkill of Clearfield safety Jason Plubell at the goal line to put the Red Raiders up a touchdown seven minutes earlier and he had just churned out 40 yards on five carries to get the Red Raiders to the Clearfield 28 with under four minutes remaining in the game.
As Funk described it, Bellefonte sent the entire team left and he did the rest with his 14-yard run to quash the Bison’s chances at another comeback.
Red Raiders quarterback Ethan Rossman finished the job two plays later with his 11-yard touchdown run to give Bellefonte a 35-21 victory over Clearfield for the District 6-9 Class 4A title.
“It would’ve been really easy for that group of kids to stop believing in who they are and what they’ve done, and they haven’t,” Manning said. “They’re back to nine wins again and they have some gold around their necks. It’s a credit to those kids.”
Funk powered Bellefonte (9-2) with 187 rushing yards and a touchdown on a season-high 19 carries to help the Red Raiders win their fourth district championship in program history — Bellefonte previously won titles in 1989, 1999, and 2017.
The Red Raiders advance to face District 10’s Cathedral Prep (10-2) in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs next weekend at a time and place to be determined. The Ramblers defeated District 8’s University Prep 42-6 on Friday night.
Rossman also eclipsed the century mark with 110 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns as the Red Raiders piled up 361 yards on the ground on 42 carries (8.6 yards per carry).
“Our offensive line is a bunch of tough kids,” Manning said. “The beautiful part about that is they’re all juniors but one (Julian Emel). They’re young and they just played really hard.”
Bellefonte defeated Clearfield for the second time this season and avenged last year’s district title loss to the Bison thanks to their stifling defense.
Clearfield QB Oliver Billotte threw for just 113 yards on 32 attempts for a stingy 3.5 yards per attempt, and the longest plays the Red Raiders allowed were a 16-yard Brett Zattoni run and a 16-yard reception by Karson Kline.
The Red Raiders held Zattoni to just 4.3 yards per carry (18 carries for 77 yards) after he averaged 5.9 YPC coming into the district championship.
Funk said the Red Raiders focused on slowing down Zattoni Friday night. Clearfield had focused more on the run in recent weeks after they lost outstanding wide receiver Jake Lezzer in October.
“Zattoni is an insane back,” Funk said. “He’s hard to take down and he lays the boom on you every single play. He’s got a big engine in him and he was very hard to take down.”
The Bison had the Red Raiders’ number last season with a pair of 49-21 victories, including a win in last year’s District 6-9 Class 4A title game.
The Red Raiders got some measure of revenge against the Bison in a 28-19 victory on Sept. 27 at Rogers Stadium, a win that Manning said got the monkey off his team’s back when it came to playing their rivals to the west.
Bellefonte didn’t let their foot off the pedal early in their second matchup as they raced out to a 21-0 lead just 15 minutes into the game on touchdowns from Nick Capparelle, Rossman, and Jalen Emel.
The Red Raiders had a critical goal-line stand late in the first quarter that enabled them to jump out to a three-score lead.
The Bison didn’t quit, though, and they scored three straight touchdowns of their own to make it 21-21 with 16 minutes remaining in the game.
“There’s some things that went wrong in the first quarter but our kids didn’t flinch,” Clearfield coach Tim Janocko said.
With the momentum going against them in a 21-21 game, Bellefonte turned to the school’s all-time leading rusher in Funk to right the ship and win the district title.
Bellefonte defensive end Isaiah Nadolsky ended the third quarter with a critical sack to get the ball back in Funk’s hands with a chance to win the game.
Bellefonte quickly moved the ball from their own 45-yard line to the Clearfield 16-yard line to start the fourth quarter and that’s when Funk introduced himself to Clearfield safety Plubell.
Funk took a handoff right up the gut and he burst through the Clearfield defense to the goal line where he ran through the last defender, Plubell, for the game-winning score before giving a little two-armed muscle flex to his teammates.
“There was one thing between me and the end zone and it’s you (Plubell) so I’m going to lay the boom down on you,” Funk said.
BELLEFONTE 35 CLEARFIELD 21
(District 6-9 Class 4A Championship at Bald Eagle Area)
Clearfield 0 14 7 0 — 21
Bellefonte 14 7 0 14 — 35
B — Capparelle 17 run (Persiko kick), 9:38
B — Rossman 32 run (Persiko kick), 7:23
B — Jalen Emel 6 run (Persiko kick), 9:02
C — Zattoni 1 run (Hess kick), 4:34
C — Billotte 1 run (Hess kick), :43
C — Domico 16 pass from Billotte (Hess kick), 3:45
B — Funk 16 run (Persiko kick), 10:45
B — Rossman 11 run (Persiko kick), 2:06
Top Rusher: C: Zattoni 18-77-1. B: Funk 19-187-1.
Top Passer: C: Billotte 15-32-1-1 113. B: Rossman 4-7-1-0 33.
Top Receiver: C: Kline 9-83. B: Nadolsky 1-17.
Interceptions: C: B: Jalen Emel.
Next Game: Bellefonte vs. D-10 Cathedral Prep in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs, TBD