By Pete Chiodo
If practice makes perfect, then both the Lakeview and Clarion football teams are hoping that just a little practice will be good enough.
Neither team was able to get onto the field much this week during the lead-up to today’s quarterfinal round contest in the PIAA Class A football playoffs. School-canceling snowfall for both teams as well as a senior trip to Washington D.C. for Clarion put the kibosh on practices early in the week. Then Thursday was Thanksgiving. That left both squads with just Friday to put in a full-day’s work prior to today’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Slippery Rock University’s N. Kerr Thompson Stadium.
“Yeah, I don’t think anybody is getting outside here until Friday,” Clarion head coach Larry Wiser said earlier this week. “But after practicing and playing for 13 weeks, plus two weeks of preseason, we should be ready.”
Still, it’s not exactly the preparation either side had in mind for what is a pretty big ball game.
It will be, in fact, Lakeview’s first time in the state football playoffs. The Sailors (12-1) won their first-ever District 10 title on Friday, defeating two-time district champion Sharpsville 27-0.
For Clarion (13-0), it is the team’s first trip to states since 2009. The Bobcats earned its spot in the PIAA bracket via a 55-0 rout of Redbank Valley in the District 9 championship game.
That margin of victory was nothing new for the Bobcats this season. In fact, Clarion has won by mercy rule in each of its 13 games this year, out-scoring their opponents by a total of 724-51 — posting an average point spread of plus-51.8 per game.
Those are daunting numbers. Of course, the quality of Clarion’s schedule needs to be taken into account. Was it as tough as the District 10 Region 1 schedule Lakeview played this season? Likely not. However, scoring an average of eight touchdowns per night and pitching nine shutouts in 13 games is nothing to sneeze at no matter what the team’s schedule entailed.
“It’s a tribute to them,” Wiser said about his players. “Each week these high school kids were able to put the last game behind them and prepare for the next game. This is rare. I’ve been doing this a long time. And you usually have a couple kids that come to practice and are still commenting about last week. But these kids have come out and have been very mature about it. I attribute it to this senior class and its ability to keep things in perspective.
“We’ve played 13 opponents thus far. We’ve mercy-ruled 13 opponents,” he added. “But they’ve been able to keep things in perspective and continue working hard. Sometimes the nice things people say about you can be the worst part. But we never underestimate anybody.”
Clarion has plenty of gaudy offensive statistics to go along with its touchdown totals.
The Bobcats run multiple sets — Wing-T, the spread, the I. And they’ve found success in all phases.
Through the air, senior quarterback John Katis has completed 63.6 percent of his passes (84-for-132) for 1,895 yards, has thrown 20 touchdowns and hasn’t surrendered an interception all year.
His favorite receiver this year has been senior Cody Hearst, who has 48 catches for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The running game also includes two 1,000-yard rushers. Senior fullback Damien Slike has 134 carries for 1,836 yards and a whopping 36 touchdown carries. And junior tailback Ian Corbett has 1,093 yards on 67 carries and has rushed in 19 touchdowns.
“They have a lot of speed, speed at all the offensive skill position,” said Lakeview head coach Dan York. “That Slike kid is the No. 1 guy we have to stop. And their quarterback is a tall skinny kid who throws the ball real well.”
Comparatively, Lakeview’s power-I offensive attack is a quite a bit more streamlined. Even so, very few have been able to stop it this season.
The Sailors come into the game with the most prolific running back in District 10 history. After last week’s game, senior Blake Reddick has amassed 2,742 yards rushing, which surpassed the former single-season record by Mercyhurst Prep’s Aaron Horton of 2,444 set in 2010. And his 6,316 yards for his career tops Sharon’s T.J. Phillips who finished his career in 1999 with 6,241 yards.
Reddick is obviously the cornerstone of Lakeview’s offense. However, the Sailors have other weapons as well, like quarterback Zack Bigley (23-for-44, 644 yards, five TDs passing); fullback Marquis Spence (104 carries, 682 yards, 15 TDs) and receiver Zach Van Dusen (13 catches, 447 yards, four TDs).
Asked what he sees in this year’s Lakeview team, Wiser answered, “Nothing but good things. Obviously, they’ve got a good-sized line, they’re a good team, they’ve got speed, a pretty solid defense and they don’t leave anything to the imagination. They’re going to come right at you.”