The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

November 25, 2010

High School football: Braves go for 10th win tonight

COAL TOWNSHIP — There is a lot more on the line tonight than just a football game: Sam Stroh's wonderful salt and pepper locks are up for grabs when his freshly minted District 4 Class AAA champion Shikellamy football team takes on unbeaten Clearfield.

You see Stroh made a bet with his team a year ago that still stands: Win 10 games and Stroh gets a mohawk. Just a one-time deal, but a mohawk nonetheless.

That's just a little sideshow to the first-ever PIAA playoff game in Shikellamy history. It is coming off a big win in the district title game against its biggest rival and now the Braves have to regroup in less than a week — with a holiday in the middle — to play the biggest game of the season against a team they have never played before and know little about.

"That's kind of the question, how do we come back," said Stroh, whose team is 9-3 heading into Friday's game at Shamokin's Kemp Memorial Stadium. "This is a state playoff game and your season is on the line every Friday night. But our kids came in on Saturday and were focused. It's a new season for us and it seems to have re-energized us."

The Bison are unbeaten after knocking off Greater Johnstown in the District 6/9 sub-regional final a week ago, 28-12.

Clearfield (12-0) features a balanced attack that shows a lot more flashy things than it actually does. The Bison are led by junior quarterback Curtis Frye, who has thrown for nearly 1,600 yards and 15 scores. He has completed more than 60 percent of his passes and has been intercepted just four times this season.

Frye has also rushed for more than 300 yards and eight scores and his backfield mate, Derek Morgan, has 1,184 yards and 17 TDs on the ground.

Stroh said the challenging thing about preparing for Clearfield, who he said reminds him of a smaller version of Selinsgrove, is that they do a lot of fancy things to mask a simple offense — like Shamokin.

"They are a lot like Shamokin in that they do a lot of window dressing," he said. "They do a lot of different things, but it is all basically out the I. They move people all around in motion, then it ends up being a straight-iso.

"This is one of those games where we can't pay attention to all the motion and other garbage. Just follow the blocking schemes and we will be fine."

Defensively, Clearfield has been tough to score on. The Bison have allowed more than 14 points just one time all season and that came in a 56-25 win over Philipsburg-Osceola. In their last six games, the Bison have allowed seven touchdowns and have a pair of shutouts.

"They are a good football team, No. 9 or 10 in the state," said Stroh. "They are not a very big team, but they come off the ball well and they have great pad level."

The Clearfield defense will have the challenge of trying to slow down a potent Shikellamy offense that was firing on all cylinders but now has to replace starting tailback Taiten Valiquette, who is out with a broken wrist.

Both quarterback Garrett Pope and fullback Dominick Wolfe should break the 1,000-yard mark on the ground tonight. Between the two of them they have 26 rushing TDs. Pope and junior Tyler Pratt have broken out in the passing game in recent weeks as well, and Pope now has nearly 1,200 yards and 16 TDs through the air with Pratt hauling in 11 of those scores.

"They are very balanced on offense between the run and the pass, but they are also balanced in the way they use the run game, with who handles it," said Clearfield coach Tim Janocko. "They have good athletes. Their quarterback is very good and their fullback is a big, strong runner."

Janocko is hoping Clearfield's experience in the state playoffs pays dividends this week against a team making its first-ever appearance in states.

The Bison won a first-round state playoff game two years ago before losing to Strong Vincent in the quarterfinals. Last year they lost in the District 6/9 final, so Janocko had a feeling his team could make another run this season.

"Going into the season, we felt like we had a shot to get back to states," he said. "We had some kids returning who were disappointed not to make it to states last year and we've tried to stay balanced so we could accomplish that."

One obvious advantage the Braves would seem to have is the fact that the game is at Shamokin, maybe a 15-minute ride from Sunbury. Clearfield on the other hand, has a nearly three-hour bus ride from western Pennsylvania. Fortunately, Janocko said, the Bison routinely take long road trips in the Seven Mountains League and so far this year have made trips to Penns Valley, Lewistown (twice), Juniata and Huntingdon. This week's winner meets the winner of the Abington Heights-Allentown Central Catholic game next week in the state quarterfinals.

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