There’s a great story about NBA legend Larry Bird and the ways he kept himself engaged when the game became just too easy.
On one West Coast road trip Brid, almost bored by the lack of resistance he was facing, vowed to play the final game of the trip against Portland left-handed, “at least through three quarters.”
Bird went on to score 47 points against the Blazers and record his second straight triple-double, with most of his baskets coming from his off hand.
One has to wonder if that’s where the Clearfield Bisons were coming from over the last two weeks. Clearly the gold standard of the Mountain League, with a blowout win over No. 2 Bald Eagle Area already in hand, the Bisons let two opponents hang around just long enough to make it interesting for a short while before unloading with a running attack comparable to few others in the region.
It’s unlikely the Bisons kept the games close out of boredom, but like Bird they may have been in need of something to provide a little spark, so easily have they dominated the field in 2021.
Last night, it was Tyrone that hung around just long enough to make the game interesting before Clearfield’s emphasis on pounding the football turned the second half into a runaway. Up just 14-6 at halftime, the Bisons unleashed a brutal ground attack that produced 237 of their 372 running yards over the third and fourth quarters in a 42-12 victory at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field.
A week earlier, they trailed Penns Valley 7-6 after the first quarter before scoring 47 unanswered points.
Both Mark McGonigal (11-115) and Jose Alban (10-100) reached the 100-yard mark, while quarterback Oliver Billotte went for 86 on 10 carries. He may have reached the century mark as well had Clearfield needed him to run more than once in the second half.
“We got pretty physical there in the second half,” said Bisons coach Tim Janocko, whose team remained undefeated at 4-0 and moved to 3-0 in the league.
It was a strategy that made sense. The young Golden Eagles have had fits with hefty, physical offensive lines this season, and against the Bisons they weren’t even at full strength. Two starters were out on contact tracing for COVID-19, making the mile-high task of slowing Clearfield’s rushing attack all the more challenging.
Clearfield scored on four rushing touchdowns in the second half and never once attempted a pass in a throwback-style football game that was more than Tyrone could handle.
But as much as the game grew into a blowout, it was a step in the right direction for the Eagles, who were hoping to build some momentum from their first win of the season last week at Bellefonte. Tyrone’s passing attack was sharp, with Keegan Gwinn and freshman Ashton Walk combining for 205 yards through the air. Their deep corps of receivers played like the group Coach John Franco imagined when he said in August he would put them up with any receiving unit in Blair County.
The problem emerged from the mismatch Tyrone was facing on both the offensive and defensive line. When they were on defense, the Eagles couldn’t stop the run, surrendering 7.9 yards per carry. When they were on offense, they couldn’t run the ball, averaging a mere 1.2 yards each time they handed the ball off.
Never was that more of an issue than when the Eagles started to get their offense in gear midway through the second quarter. Clearfield had gone ahead 14-0 in the second quarter after a pair of 5-yard touchdown runs by Billotte, capitalizing on a Gwinn interception and a fumble by Brady Ronan.
But after Billotte’s second score Tyrone began moving the football, using mostly short drop-back passes by Gwinn in order to offset the pass rush of the Bisons, which was led by Billotte himself, who when not calling the signals doubles as a down lineman on defense (At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, it’s easy to understand why).
The Eagles patched together a 70-yard drive, using just enough of the run to keep Clearfield honest. Their longest gainer on the ground came on an 11-yard run by Ronan, and it would be Tyrone’s best running play of the game.
Most of the yards on the drive came from the arm of Gwinn, who went 17 for 32 for 169 yards on the night and found a special connected with 6-foot-4 receiver Ross Gampe. Gampe had two 20-plus-yard receptions on the advance to get Tyrone as far as the 1.
Gampe’s 29-yard catch over the middle set up a 1-yard sneak by Gwinn that had Tyrone behind 14-6 with 4:41 left in the half.
That blast gave the Eagles the energy they needed, and on the ensuing kickoff Kolten Miller recovered a fumble to set up Tyrone at Clearfield’s 22 with a shot at tying the game before halftime. The Eagles would get as far as the 2 when they were faced with fourth down and less-than-one.
Here was where Tyrone needed to be able to run the football, but Gwninn was stuffed for no gain on fourth down, giving the ball back to Clearfield and sapping the momentum the Eagles had gained from their score and quick takeaway.
While Franco admitted the fourth down stop halted his team’s budding energy, he also conceded that his team’s inability to run with consistency in general was the killer.
With a renewed vigor, the Bisons scored on all four of their second-half possessions, with four backs carrying the load and three getting into the end zone. Carter Chamberlain capped a 60-yard march with a 15-yard run to make it 21-6 midway through the third quarter and then scored from the 2 to end a 68-yard advance. McGonigal and Alban set the table on the second touchdown with long runs, including a 27-yard scamper through traffic by Alban that got the ball to the 12.
McGonigal then broke loose on a 52-yard score in the fourth to make it 35-6.
With Gwinn nursing a sprained ankle he sustained last week against Bellefonte, freshman Ashton Walk came into the game for Tyrone’s next possession and led the Eagles on a 57-yard scoring drive. He went 5-for-7, including a fourth-down conversion pass to Andrew Weaver, and then capped the march with a 5-yard toss to Miller to make it 35-12.
Brady Collins closed the scoring with a 4-yard run late after Tyrone tried unsuccessfully at an onsides kick.
Tyrone had been fighting an uphill battle most of the week, as contact tracing had the team depleted so far that by Wednesday they were practicing with 27 players. That was why Franco admired his team’s approach, down two starters, against the top team on its schedule.
“With a banged up offensive line, without several starters, against one of the best defensive fronts we’re going to see, they hung in there,” said Tyrone coach John Franco, whose team dipped to 1-3 (1-1 Mountain League). “We knew we couldn’t run on them, but you can’t be one-dimensional. But we were.”
Now 1-3 overall and 1-1 in the Mountain League, Tyrone travels to winless Huntingdon next week. The Bearcats lost to BEA Friday 42-0.
Clearfield takes its 4-0 record to Bellefonte.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CLEARFIELD 7 7 14 14 – 42
TYRONE 0 6 0 6 – 12
C – Billotte 5 run (Sidorick kick) 4:31
C – Billotte 5 run (Sidorick kick) 8:51
T – Gwinn 1 run (PAT failed) 4:41
C – Chamberlain 15 run (Sidorick kick) 6:44
C – Chamberlain 2 run (Sidorick kick) :16.4
C – McGonigal 52 run (Sidorick kick) 9:57
T – Miller 5 pass from Walk (PAT pass failed) 7:10
C – Collins 4 run (Sidorick kick) 1:32
First Downs 13 20
Yards Rushing 22-27 47-372
Pass Att.-Comp.-Int. 22-39-1 3-8-0
Yards Passing 205 36
TOTAL OFFENSE 232 408
Fumbles/Lost 1-1 2-2
Punts/Avg. 2-39 1-41
Penalties/Yards 2-10 5-46
TYRONE – Ronan 8-7; Beck 3-2(-2); Miller 1-1; Klein 3-7; Gwinn 3-8; Walk 4-7.
CLEARFIELD – Billotte 10-86; Alban 10-100; McGonigal 11-115; Chamberlain 6-31; Collins 7-32; Domico 1-1; Lazauskas 1-8; Team 1-(-1).
TYRONE – Gwinn 17-32-169, 0 TD, 1 Int.; Walk 5-7-36, 1 TD, 0 Int.
CLEARFIELD – Billotte 3-6-36, 0 TD, 0 Int.
TYRONE – Baldauf 3-28; Gampe 4-78; Ronan 6-27; Weaver 2-14; Miller 1-5; Rhoades 2-29; Beck 3-20; LeGars 1-4.
CLEARFIELD – Kline 3-36.