By Chris Rossetti
BROCKWAY – The District 9 title game that no one saw coming back in August will take
place at 7 p.m. Friday night when Clarion faces off against Cameron County in the Class A championship game
at Brockway’s Frank Varischetti Stadium.
In August, the talk surrounding Clarion (8-4) was if the Bobcats could avoid a third
straight losing season, while the thought concerning Cameron County was how the Red Raiders (11-1) would fair
after losing almost their entire lineup from last year’s District 9 Class A runner-up team.
Three months later, both schools are within one victory of the second District 9 title
in their respective histories.
Cameron County’s lone title came in 1999 with a 13-6 win over Clarion at the same
(sane the new turf) field in Brockway when Clarion fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line with under a minute to
play. Clarion’s only championship was in 1997 with a 7-3 win over Smethport.
The paths the two teams have taken to the title game this year have been vastly
Cameron County started the season with a rugged schedule that included three eventual
District 9 playoff teams in the first five weeks. The Red Raiders took care of all three including a 27-26
overtime win over Kane, a 23-20 double-overtime win over Curwensville and a 13-7 down-to-the-wire victory
over Coudersport that basically clinched the AML-North title in Week Five.
Riding that wave, Cameron won its first nine games before dropping a heartbreaking 7-6
decision to Kane in the AML Title Game. The Red Raiders, however, still got the No. 1 seed in the District 9
playoffs and responded with convincing victories over both Keystone (57-22) and Coudersport (21-7) with the
win over the Falcons coming in last week’s semifinals. In the two games, Cameron ran for a combined 1,056
yards including a mind-boggling 600 against Keystone, the worst defense in District 9.
Clarion, on the other hand, saw its hopes of an unbeaten season slip away in an
opening-night 26-20 loss to Moniteau. The Bobcats responded with three straight victories, but the third one,
a 30-27 win at Punxsutawney, was a costly one as sophomore starting quarterback Dan Walters was lost for the
season with a knee injury. The following week, Clarion, with freshman Brandon Heeter at quarterback, lost
28-21 in triple overtime at Redbank Valley to fall to 3-2.
The Bobcats responded well winning three of their next four games with the only loss
being a 13-0 setback to eventual District 9 Class AA champion Karns City. Clarion, however, lost its
regular-season finale 20-19 to District 10’s Sharpsville bumping the Bobcats down to the No. 7 seed in the
Clarion, though, became the first lower seed to win a first-round game when it beat
Redbank Valley 19-0 in the rematch. The Bobcats then rallied from a 12-6 deficit heading to the fourth
quarter to beat Elk County Catholic 18-12 in overtime in last week’s semifinals at Brockway becoming the
first seventh-seed to make the D9 Class A title game. The key to Clarion’s playoff success has been on the
defensive side of the ball. The Bobcats are allowing an average of 135.5 yards per game in the two wins.
That defense will be tested by a Cameron County offense that ranks fourth in District 9
in scoring at 30.4 ppg.
The Red Raiders offense is mainly a ground-oriented attack with all but 460 of
Cameron’s 3,646 total yards of offense coming on the ground.
Andy Lippert leads the charge with 135 carries for 958 yards and 13 touchdowns. Lippert
has had back-to-back 200-yard games and has 536 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in two postseason
But Lippert isn’t alone, as three additional Red Raiders have over 400 yards rushing
each led by Randy Schatz’s 816 yards and seven touchdowns. Andrew Kesterholt adds 739 yards and five scores
and quarterback Jason Blose has 420 yards and nine touchdowns.
When the Raiders go to the air, it’s with mixed results. Blose is completing 37.5
percent of his passes (27 of 72) for 460 yards and nine touchdowns but has also thrown five interceptions.
Andy Beer is his favorite target with nine catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns, wh8ile Mike Malizia
has added eight grabs for 100 yards and two scores.
That offense will be facing a Clarion defense that ranks fourth in District 9 in points
allowed (12.1 ppg) and has allowed only two teams more than 200 yards rushing in game while allowing an
average of 117 yards on the ground per contest.
The big question facing the Bobcats defense will be the availability of linebacker Jon
Kemmer, the team’s third-leading tackler with 111 to go with four sacks. Kemmer hurt his shoulder early in
the ECC game and didn’t play on offense after the first series of the game while seeing limited time on the
defensive side of the ball. If he goes, the Bobcats defense is obviously stronger. If he doesn’t Clarion
will need its leading tacklers Bubba Rue (144 stops, 3 sacks) and Kevin Grejda (113 tackles, 12.5 sacks) to
step up while also getting adding production from the likes of Joel Matticks (66 stops), Bryan Biertempfel
(48 tops, 3 sacks) and Mark Divins (43 tackles, 2 sacks).
Kemmer’s absence could also be felt on offense where he’s the team’s second
leading rusher with 707 yards and 12 touchdowns. If Kemmer can’t go on offense it will mean more carries
for Rue, the leading rusher with 771 yards and seven scores, and Grejda, the fullback, who has 403 yards and
Heeter, the freshman quarterback, is getting better by the week. On the year, he is 46
of 75 (61.3 percent) passing for 467 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He has thrown just one
pick since his first game at Redbank Valley, and he is almost perfect in the playoffs completing 85 percent
of his passes (17 of 20) for 176 yards and three touchdowns. In his last three games, he is 24 of 36 for 284
yards and four scores including 12 of 14 for 102 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over ECC.
Jarrod Carpin (22 catches, 447 yards, 6 TDs), Grejda (21 catches, 154 yards, 2 TDs),
Erik Hartle (11 catches, 86 yards, 3 TDs) and Gavin Griffin (3 catches, 38 yards, 1 TD) give Heeter plenty of
options to throw to.
And the Bobcats might need all those options and more against a Cameron County defense
that ranks No. 1 in District 9 in points allowed (9.75 ppg) while pitching four shutouts and holding
opponents to seven or fewer points eight times.
Beer leads the team in tackles (79) and sacks (10), while Malizia isn’t far behind
with 75 stops and six sacks. Kyle McManigle adds 67 tackles, six sacks and two picks, while Jarek Holjencin
has 61 stops and four picks. Daniel Sullivan chips in with 47 tackles and eight interceptions, Ryan Neyman
has 58 tackles and six sacks, Mike Bakers 57 tackles, four sacks and one pick and Andrew Kesterholt 49 stops
and six sacks.
NOTES – Cameron County is 1-1 in District 9 title games winning the 1999 game over
Clarion and losing last year’s Class A title contest 14-6 to Cameron County. Malizia is the only offensive
starter back from last year’s team, while Malizia, Baker and Holjencin are the only defensive starters
returning … Clarion is 1-5 all-time in D9 title games and has lost three straight since the 1997 win. The
Bobcats last appearance was in 2005, a 31-7 loss to Coudersport. None of this year’s seniors were on that
team … It is the 22nd District 9 Class A title game and the fourth time that teams that had
previously played for a D9 title played again. In 1991, 1992 and again in 1998 Smethport beat
Clarion-Limestone and in 2001 and 2006 Coudersport beat Curwensville.