That was indeed a tornado that whipped through Clearfield County on Tuesday.
It was not the Clearfield Bisons’ offense, which often leaves storm-like damage in its wake.
Bisons coach Tim Janocko confirmed that much on Wednesday. The 38-year veteran said the team concluded its practice before the storm passed by, so the two phenomena were unrelated.
However, one could understand if there was any confusion. After all, the Bisons have spent the first six weeks of the regular season flattening anything that has come in their path, with an offense as potent as any in Central Pennsylvania.
Clearfield has rolled to a 6-0 start (4-0 Mountain League) with hardly a challenge, and they’ll be at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field Friday to take on Tyrone on Homecoming.
It will be the third consecutive week the Golden Eagles (3-2 Mountain League) have taken on an undefeated opponent, and the first two tries didn’t turn out the way Tyrone had hoped – not by a long shot.
Two weeks ago the Eagles led Bellefonte 14-7 at halftime before being outscored 24-0 in the second half under a barrage of crushing Raider running plays.
Last week they ran into a buzz saw in Bald Eagle Area, losing 35-0 in a game that was over by halftime.
All the while waiting at the end of the stretch was Clearfield, and Tyrone will get them while they’re hot.
The Bisons pummeled Bellefonte 49-21 last week, amassing 529 total yards of offense.
The key, according to Janocko, is simple.
“I think it’s maturity,” said Janocko, whose team finished 6-4 in 2017 and finished out of first place in the Mountain League for the first time since joining the conference in 2012. “Our offensive line is a year older, our running backs are a year older. I think that’s the big thing.”
Plainly speaking, the Bisons are a year older and a year better – and they’ve got an army of skill players who were already really good, starting with quarterback Isaac Rumery.
The 5-foot-9 Penn State commit has completed 66 of 97 passes for 1,303 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 327 yards and 6 more scores. He’s the straw that stirs the drink in Clearfield, but he’s got plenty of receivers helping him out. Jake Lezzer (28 receptions for 658 yards) and Taye Lynch (20 receptions for 450 yards) are the main weapons, though eight different receivers have caught passes.
“They’re pretty good,” said Tyrone coach Jason Wilson, whose team fell to 4-2 with the loss to BEA. “Rumery can move with his feet and throw the ball deep on a dime. Lezzer is good, and Lynch is just as good. Both guys are a threat. They’re always looking downfield for the home run ball.”
It’s an offense averaging 44 points a game that no one has figured a way to slow. The team with the best chance was Penns Valley in Week 2, but even after putting up more than 500 yards in total offense the Rams found themselves on the short end of a 56-42 final.
How do you compete with that? Score 42 and lose by a pair of touchdowns? It speaks to how well things are going in Clearfield, and part of the reason is the Bisons’ powerful running game, which is getting 232 yards each time out.
“It helps to be balanced,” said Janocko. “That way the defense can’t load up on one thing. As the running game improves, it opens everything else up.”
If there is a way of halting the Bisons, it’s by grinding out drives and keeping Clearfield’s play makers off the offensive side of the football. Here are some keys.
- RUN THE FOOTBALL
This was a strength for Tyrone right up until the second half of the Bellefonte game, which is when a lot of things began going south for the Golden Eagles. Zac Albright is averaging just under 100 yards per game and could be Tyrone’s first 1,000-yard back in three seasons, but starting two weeks ago and continuing into last week – when the Eagles posted just seven rushing yards against BEA – the ground game has been quiet. Whether it’s Albright on a hand-off or quarterback Denver Light on a scramble, Tyrone needs to find ways to move the sticks with its running attack.
“In the last six quarters the problem has been getting our running game established,” Wilson said. “We’re also missing opportunities with our short, easy throws in our passing game. Our offense still has to revolve around the run. We’ve got to establish it and keep the football.”
- SUSTAIN DRIVES
In the second half against Bellefonte, Tyrone went three-and-out on its first possession, and followed that up with a pair of 5-play drives. Against BEA the Eagles had two three-and-outs in the first half and one series that lasted just a single play. That’s not a recipe for productive offense, and against Bald Eagle it led to short fields for the Bald Eagles and easy scoring drives. That won’t work against Clearfield.
With an offense as prolific as the Bisons’ the key will be holding serve and not falling behind by multiple scores, as happened the last two weeks. It’s easier said than done, but one way is simply by moving the sticks, whether it be with short passes or grinding runs.
“One of our goals every week is to avoid three-and-outs,” Wilson said. “When you go three-and-out at your own 20, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Even if we don’t score, we want to hang onto the ball for six to nine plays. Then if you stall around the 50 and give it back, you can pin them deep.”
Light has been solid at quarterback, and his willingness to let plays go, to not allow himself to be taken down for big losses or to scramble from trouble rather than taking big sacks, has been an important component in Tyrone’s success this season. His ability to scramble has helped the Eagles sustain drives.
So to has the reliability of his receivers. Damon Gripp (263 yards), Tommy Hicks (217), Cory Lehman (187) and Brandon Homan (140) have been steady targets on a variety of routes, including deep ones, but they have also found ways to get open within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and completions like those will be crucial against the Bisons, who have been torched by good passers. Penns Valley’s Aaron Tobias torched Clearfield for 431 yards in September, and Huntingdon’s Andrew Hudy put up 249.
- KEEP THE PLAY IN FRONT AND GET OFF THE FIELD
Bellefonte’s game-tying score in the first half two weeks ago came on a long pass on fourth down, and then got the go-ahead score in the third quarter came after converting on third-and-16. BEA sparked its first scoring drive by converting on third-and-17 with a deep pass behind the secondary, ultimately punching it in on a reverse.
Tyrone has been burned by big pays over the last two games, and that’s the kind of environment where players like Rumery and Lezzer and Lynch thrive.
“We’re not where we want to be,” said Wilson. “We had Bald Eagle in a lot of long down-and-distance situations where we let them convert. Big plays definitely impacted that game.”
Even if Tyrone can keep plays in front and avoid big plays, it’s going to be a tall task against the Bisons, but it makes the job a little more manageable. With Clearfield allowing 18 points per game – and winning games where it surrenders 42 – Tyrone’s best bet will be plowing out long drives and looking for timely stops.