Defenses dominate, Punxsy finishes strong
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Both Punxsy and Karns City's defenses shutout their opponents in the seventh- and eighth-grade football game Thursday afternoon in Punxsutawney. But Punxsy's Adam Milliron managed a strip-sack for a fumble, and Kaleb Young recovered it in the end zone for the only score of the game, as the Chucks defeated the Gremlins, 8-0.
"What a fantastic game to coach, to watch and to be a part of," Punxsy head coach Jason Grusky said after the game. "These guys make us look good. We're fortunate to have them as players, and these players make us look good as coaches."
The game was Punxsy's final game of the season, and the Chucks finished with an impressive 7-1 record.
"We had never seen a team that was this together," Grusky said of his team's cohesion this year. "They get along; they hang out together; they play well together. They have a bond that's uncommon at this age level. The better varsity teams are usually ones that work hard together through the system, so it's exciting to see a group like this."
Grusky wasn't making any promises for the future of his team, but he did say he was very proud of their efforts this season and of their performance Thursday.
Punxsy's big play came in the fourth quarter after three scoreless periods filled with lots of running and plenty of turnovers.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Punxsy's defense brought a 10-play drive by the Gremlins to a screeching halt when Dylan Huey recorded his first interception of the game on a pass by Karns City quarterback Colin Dunmyre, giving the Chucks excellent field position at the Gremlins' 19.
Punxsy fumbled on the second play of its drive, though, after an 18-yard sweep play by Young put the Chucks one yard from the first score of the game.
Karns City started its drive from the five-yard line, but on the first play, running back Chandler Turner was blown up in the backfield by Drake McBee.
On the next play, Dunmyre dropped back to pass, but was sacked by Milliron, who knocked the ball out of his hands on the way to the ground.
Although it appeared Karns City may have beaten the Chucks to the loose ball — which still would have resulted in a safety and two points for Punxsy — Young fell on the ball to give the Chucks six.
"What an exciting play," Grusky said. "We were thrilled to even get the safety. From our vantage point, it looked like a regular old safety, but Kaleb came out with it."
A two-point conversion on a pass from Jones to Nathan Ray pushed the lead to eight points, where it would stay for the remainder of the game.
But both teams kept the game interesting — and gave their coaches plenty to worry about — with turnovers on the next three drives.
Punxsy's defense struck first when Ray pounced on a fumble by the Gremlins to give the Chucks the ball back at the Karns City 31.
Punxsy earned one first down, but the Gremlins' Jake Barton answered by recovering a fumble of his own at the 13 with 2:24 remaining, giving his team one last chance to march the length of the field.
Punxsy's defense had the last say, though, when Huey intercepted his second pass of the afternoon on a third-down screen-pass trick play thrown by wideout Cullen Williams.
Despite three Punxsy fumbles, Grusky wasn't upset with the way his offense took care of the ball, saying that good teams find ways to get the ball back, and noting that the Chucks earned quite a few turnovers of their own.
"Good teams have a way of forcing turnovers," he said. "We may have had some jitters, too, but we were trying to bounce things wide if the hole we were trying to hit was clogged. Maybe our timing was off on some of those things. But that's a credit to their schemes taking us out of what we wanted to do, too."
Punxsy earned a first down on the ensuing drive, and the Gremlins started using their timeouts to preserve the clock, but Punxsy's running game kept the clock moving.
The Chucks' drive did eventually run out of steam at the seven-yard line, but Karns City had just four seconds to go 93 yards.
A first down pass play seemed to be the last play of the game, but there was one-tenth of a second left on the clock when it fell incomplete.
Dunmyre attempted to run the distance on the game's final play, but was stopped after a seven-yard pickup, and the Chucks' victory was secured.
"I had jitters this whole game," Grusky said. "I was so excited that we came out so intense. Our motto this week was, 'Be the man.' We needed people to step up on every play, to make a big play, a big tackle, a big catch or a long run. We wanted every ounce of effort out of these guys, and we knew it'd hinge on a few big plays."
Fortunately for the Chucks and their fans, those big plays went their way Thursday, bringing a happy ending to the story of their season.
Huey led the defense for Punxsy with his pair of interceptions, and Young had an interception on top of his fumble recovery to give the Chucks three in the game.
Alex Young had a pair of sacks for the defensive squad, and Brandon Bennett picked up a sack to complement Milliron's.