Clarion, bringing the second best scoring offense in the PSAC with it, did not disappoint when entering Sox Harrison Stadium on Saturday. The Golden Eagles snapped a five game losing streak to Edinboro (0-6, 0-3 PSAC West) and moved to 6-0 (3-0) behind 506 yards of offense as they won 36-23 on the Fighting Scots’ homecoming.
“I’m totally disappointed,” head coach Scott Browning said after the game. “We’re going through six tough weeks now and it’s not going to get any easier. It’s not going to get any easier.”
After finishing 2-9 overall and 2-7 in conference play last season, while entering this year picked last in the division, Clarion is off to its best start since a 7-0 record in 1983.
Junior quarterback Connor Simmons finished the day 18-28 passing, totaling 345 yards and 4 touchdowns as he hooked up with junior receivers Matt Lehman and Kevin Genevro twice each for scores.
“The second half, we went out and I thought our guys played hard, but we made too many mistakes again. From interceptions to fumbling the football, blown coverages,” Browning said. “The positive thing I’m going to say is we had a lot of freshman step up today and make a lot of plays. I think we have a good foundation to build on.”
Clarion started the day with a six-play, 87- yard touchdown drive as Simmons completed four of his five passes, with the final throw resulting in a seven-yard touchdown pass on a slant to Genevro.
After Austin Reese got Edinboro on the board with a 31-yard field goal, Clarion took just four plays to counter with a 21-yard touchdown on a right side fade between Simmons and Genevro to take a 13-3 lead late in the first quarter.
The Scots found the end zone on the following trip as sophomore quarterback Jake Sisson showed plenty of athleticism, leaping for the front left pylon on a six-yard rushing touchdown. The drive took over six minutes off the clock as Edinboro moved 72 yards on 12 plays.
Regaining possession with just 1:18 left in the first half, Clarion capitalized with a six play, 63-yard drive that culminated in a familiar Simmons-to-Lehman connection from 10 yards out. Lehman is second in Division II with 12 touchdown catches.
Leading 19-10 at halftime, Clarion racked up 303 yards through the air, but was limited to negative eight yards rushing. Redshirt-junior defensive lineman Josh Kibbie (1.5 sacks) and junior linebacker Gabe Tillman (0.5 sacks) were among front seven players who affected the ability to run.
“I think they probably came out and changed some things,” Browning said. “They figure out what we’re going to do and they’re going to come back, coach their guys up at halftime, come out and they’ll have a different plan.”
Clarion put the game out of reach by converting a pair of Edinboro turnovers into 10 points in the late stages of the third quarter. Jacob Craig’s midfield interception of Sisson (20-for-33, 215 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) near midfield led to a 24-yard field goal from junior kicker Phil Esposito.
A Jamaal Eveillard fumble on the Scots’ next drive allowed for the Golden Eagles to score on a Lehman touchdown grab on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“I think turning the ball over, I think that was the game,” Browning said. “I think Clarion’s got a little bit more experience than us and it showed. I think that’s the difference.”
Edinboro cut the lead down to 12 on its first possession of the final frame as Sisson and company amassed 89 yards on six plays.
Sisson found a wide open James Clark in the middle of the field and the true freshman weaved through several defenders to use the right sideline on the 30-yard score. The Thorndale, Pennsylvania native has caught six passes for 91 yards on the season, along with his first career touchdown.
“We knew going in, he’s a talented guy and he broke the ice today,” Browning said in regards to Clark. “Hopefully big things will come from James.”
Sophomore running back Delrece Williams (20 rushes, 146 yards rushing, four receptions, 104 yards receiving) exploded for a 57-yard touchdown run on Clarion’s biggest play of the day on the following drive to make it a 36-17 advantage.
The Fighting Scots fell to 0-6 for the first time since 1954.
Edinboro visits Gannon on Thursday night for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Mike Fenner is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.