Chucks can't overcome Gremlin's hot start

PUNXSUTAWNEY — After jumping out to a 16-0 first half lead, the Karns City Gremlins ninth-grade team held off a late surge by the Chucks to earn a 22-12 win Thursday night in Punxsutawney.

The Gremlins' first score came in the first quarter after a blocked Punxsy punt was recovered at the Chucks' 28-yard line. Two plays into the ensuing drive, the Gremlins scored on a 23-yard touchdown run and added a two-point conversion run to take an 8-0 lead.

Punxsy's next drive ran into the second quarter, but the Chucks came up short of the sticks just inside Karns City territory. Punxsy's punt was fumbled by the Gremlins' returner, though, and the Chucks had them pinned deep at their own two.

Punxsy's hopes of smothering them lasted just one play, though, as running back Tristan Rhodes busted a sweep outside and dodged Punxsy tacklers for a 25-yard run to give his team some breathing room.

The Gremlins orchestrated a 14-play drive from that point forward, ending with a four-yard touchdown run by Rhodes to complete the 98-yard drive and give the Gremlins a 16-point advantage after another successful two-pointer was run in by Rhodes.

Karns City's drive ate nearly six minutes off the clock, and the Chucks had just 1:24 to attempt marching the length of the field.

Punxsy quarterback Dakota Thomas sparked the offense with a 16-yard run on first down, but after picking up just five yards on the next three plays, the Chucks were forced to punt the ball away with 30 ticks left on the first-half clock.

Karns City wide receiver Tyler Dunn received the punt deep in his own territory and ran it back nearly 60 yards deep into Punxsy's end, but the play was called back for an illegal chop-block, and the half ended after a pass by quarterback Caleb King to Logan Moroney.

Special teams continued to play a large role in Karns City's attack when Dunn took the second-half kickoff and ran it down the sideline, eerily similar to his punt return before the half, to the Chucks' 20.

With excellent field position, the Gremlins were poised to deliver what could have been a paralyzing strike to the Chucks, and four plays later on a fourth-and-goal from the five, Rhodes scored again on a direct snap.

King fumbled the snap, and the two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Gremlins were ahead 22-0.

Instead of rolling over in defeat, though, the Chucks bounced back and found their offensive life on the ensuing drive.

It took the Chucks just two plays — a 14-yard pass from Thomas to Adam Ferko and a 50-yard run by Travis Perry — to give the Chucks their first score of the game and bring them back to life.

An incomplete pass on the two-point attempt kept the score at 22-6.

Karns City's offense struggled to regain the momentum it had on its previous drive, and the Chucks forced a three-and-out after Luke Shiock stopped Rhodes in the backfield on second down, and Dylan Stanford broke up a third-down pass attempt, almost picking it off.

Punxsy's next possession started at the 38, and after a seven-yard run by Thomas and a pair of 12-yard power runs up the middle by Perry Arrington, the Chucks cashed in on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Dakota Byers.

A two-point conversion would have brought the Chucks within one score, but Karns City's defense stuffed the attempt, and the lead remained 22-12.

"It was good to see us bounce back," Punxsy head coach Jason Grusky said. "We had them on their heels, and we got a good momentum swing going. We were just that one two-point conversion away from making it a one-score game. Unfortunately, we didn't get it, and we had to go to the passing game to try to get two scores and try to keep the clock from running. But we were in it, and that's all you can ask for, especially after getting down early."

Punxsy's defense stepped up and forced a pair of turnovers from there on — a fumble recovery by Shiock in the third quarter and an interception by Stanford early in the fourth — but the Gremlins' defense refused to break, though it bent and allowed the Chucks deep into its territory.

The game ended with an interception by Rhodes, as the Chucks went down throwing in hopes of putting another score on the board. Rhodes had a clear path to the end zone, but Arrington ran him down from behind to bring the game to a close and keep the deficit at 10.

Despite the loss and a 3-3 record this season, Grusky said he and the rest of the coaching staff were proud of Punxsy's efforts this season.

"We told the guys that, ultimately, what's important is we made them better football players and tried to set them up for varsity-level football," he said. "Record doesn't really matter too much, but even then, at 3-3, that's the best we've ended up in the past five years. So, there's a lot of positives we can take from this game. As long as these guys stick together and play hard, they'll have a lot of success in the future."