Too many missed chances add up to defeat for Bulldogs

DUBOIS Jordan Tawney remained stretched out on the turf at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois for a few seconds waiting for an official to point to the ground. Four officials huddled near the Jersey Shore end zone discussing a call that was going to be a possible turning point in Friday’s PIAA Class AAA first-round game between the Bulldogs and undefeated Clearfield.

Tawney heard one official say he thought the Jersey Shore runner was downed by contact, but the other three had the call the other way. When the discussion finally ended, the referee came out of the huddle and pointed Clearfield ball.

It was just one of many missed opportunities for the Bulldogs, who fell to Clearfield, 27-8.

The opportunities included six trips into Bison territory, including four into the red zone and three to at least the Clearfield 10. All that came from them were eight points. Those eight points came with 32 seconds remaining in the game and the outcome already decided with the Bulldogs trailing 27-0.

“The difference was just finishing drives,” second-year Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “We’re kind of learning and state playoff competition you have to make those plays when you are down inside the red zone. Give those guys credit because they kept us out.”

What made the missed chances more difficult to stomach was the Bulldogs’ defense was doing just as good of a job of keeping the Bison offense out, too. Clearfield led only 7-0 at halftime, but easily could have been trailing.

Jersey Shore (6-6) had six offensive drives in the first half and four reached Clearfield territory and a fifth ended at the 50 before a punt. One of those possessions began at the Clearfield 33 after the teams exchanged punts, including a 68-yarder from Shore’s Logan English.

The drive that started at the 33 in the first quarter, however, didn’t result in a first down. The Bulldogs faced a fourth-and-1, but a penalty pushed the ball back 5 yards and they failed to convert on the fourth-down play.

Clearfield (13-0) took over at the 29 and drove 71 yards for the game’s first points and a 7-0 lead.

The lead didn’t look safe as the Bulldogs took their first possession in the second quarter and drove to the Clearfield 10. Facing a third-and-1, Tawney had more than enough for a first down and reached the Bison 3 before the ball fell onto the turf and was surrounded by a number of Bison defenders. The Jersey Shore senior felt he was down on the play, but understood the difficulty of the call because of all the bodies that were surrounding the football as Tawney fell to the turf.

“That was huge,” Clearfield cornerback Christian Lezzer said. “We wanted to get points out of it, but we didn’t. But just taking the ball out of their hands when they would have probably scored on that was huge for us.”

The Shore defense forced a quick three-and-out and gave the Bulldogs possession again on Clearfield’s side off the field. Utoa Agae-Naipo (17 carries, 98 yards) went for 22 yards on a second-and-9 and two Tawney runs pushed the ball to the Clearfield 10 before the Bulldogs faced another critical fourth down, trailing 7-0. English’s pass fell incomplete on the play and again the Bulldogs walked off the field wondering what-if.

“Jersey Shore was down there a few times and we were able to stop them and keep them out of the end zone for almost the whole game,” Clearfield coach Tim Janocko said. “That is what won the game, our defense. No question.”

Chances were limited in the second half as Clearfield’s running game began taking control of the game, but the Bulldogs did reach the Bison 10 on their lone third-quarter possession. It ended 3 yards short of a first down.

“It was tough,” said Tawney about the team’s struggles in the red zone. “In state playoff games it comes down to the little things holding onto to a block for an extra second or making a right cut or the right read. Anything like that is huge and we just didn’t come through at the goal line.”

English was intercepted on Shore’s second drive in the second half before the Bulldogs finally cashed in on Agae-Naipo’s 1-yard run with 32 seconds remaining.