Despite intense temperatures, the Punxsy Chucks are ready for battle
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Nothing gets you ready for some Friday night football like 90 degree weather.
Wait, that's not right.
While it's not right, it's reality in Punxsutawney.
With the head index through the roof and the humidity off the charts, this week the Punxsy Chucks had a game to get ready for against the DuBois Beavers tonight.
With all of the pads and equipment that the football players wear to keep them safe, is it tempting to scale back the practices for safety reasons?
"We go 100 percent the whole time. We just make sure that we have tons of breaks, and it takes a little longer to get through the practices. We take our hats off so we don't have our helmets on when we don't need them on. We have to get our work in. They are in condition," head coach Alan Nichol said. "We keep an eye on them and those kind of things, but we have to get our work in. They've been through two-a-days, and while they aren't completely the same, it is pretty hot, even without the humidity that we have now."
"It was still hot and the sun was out in the afternoon. That's why I go traditional two-a-days in the afternoon because you have games in this stuff, you're going to have to practice in it."
The two-a-days do help expose the players to the heat.
In fact, the PIAA mandated that each team holds a three-day conditioning period this year.
Nichol has stayed one step ahead of the game, as he's had his team participate in this for years.
He said with the right safety measures in place, he believes that high school athletes can be conditioned for this type of weather.
"I believe you can condition and get your body prepared to do these kind of things. Now, we have to be smart, take plenty of breaks and get a lot of water in us, but that doesn't really change anything. I don't believe in going easy and then be surprised when the weather does what it does," Nichol said. "We encourage students to be in touch with their fitness all year long, and we have been out here all summer. We have always had a conditioning camp and now the PIAA requires one.
"You're going to have to play in this stuff. If it's this hot at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, you're going to have to play."
And play they will.
Whether it's 95 degrees, 75 degrees and rainy or for some reason decides to sn...nope, can't even type that word.
Anyway, regardless of the weather, the Chucks will square off with the Beavers tonight in DuBois.
DuBois (1-1) is coming off a tough 21-17 loss to Mifflin County last week, but dominated Franklin 68-14 in its opening game.
The Beavers are led by Gabe French under center, who has thrown for 296 yards on 45 attempts this season.
On the ground, Devin Clark leads the DuBois charge with 261 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite the high touchdown numbers from the running back position, DuBois is a throwing team. In fact, through two games, the Beavers have had nine different guys catch at least one pass.
As Nichol puts it, DuBois throws the short pass, but looks for a home
"I think since coach Frank Varischetti came over three years ago, he's definitely put in the spread offense. They are trying to match up and isolate their best athletes out there. The biggest challenge is their speed because of the offense that they run," Nichol said. "They want to get the ball to their guy out there one on one and get the guy out there in space to make you miss and have some big plays.
"They have very successful offense. That's going to be a challenge to slow them down and making those plays without giving up the big one. They're a big-play team."
It'll be interesting to see how the team performs against a spread attack.
Against Brookville, it was Zach Vroman who tore up the Punxsy defense to the tune of 306 yards.
Against Union, quarterback Lane Cicciarelli carved up the Chucks defense in a failed comeback attempt.
Nichol's team will be put to the test in what he calls a great challenge.
The team knows it, too.
Despite losing to Brookville by a field goal, and defeating the Knights in a two-possession game, the Chucks know they can't get too high or too low after a game.
"I think we have a lot of coaches that have a lot of experience. We always have to face the film room. We believe that the one thing about football is that we will all sit down and see our mistakes," Nichol said. "We enjoyed the win, and thought about the things that we did well, but when we got back to work, we got to see where we could improve and where we made mistakes. People say that you can learn a lot from a loss, but I think if you're humble, you can learn a lot from a win, too."
And you don't have to be worried about the Chucks being ready to give it their all in tonight's game, regardless of the outcome.
While The Route 36 battle with Brookville is the new-school rivalry, the rivalry that Punxsy and DuBois have stretches back much further than that.
"It's an old rival, and schools are only 17 miles away. There's a lot of people that know each other from both schools — sort of like Brookville. It's a little 17-mile triangle with all three schools," Nichol explained. "Our players and their players know each other from competing in all of the sports, so it's that kind of a feeling and rivalry. That makes it kind of fun for everybody involved. Of course, we know them. We know people from there. There's that feeling of an old time rivalry."
Facing a Quadruple-A school like DuBois can present certain problems for a school like Punxsy.
The program is headed in the right direction, but numbers don't lie.
And these numbers, are members of the DuBois roster.
According to MaxPreps.com, DuBois has 79 players on its current football team.
In comparison, the Chucks have just 40 players.
A team like Punxsy must rely on its players to play both offense and defense.
A team like the Beavers are able to field a team that has strictly offensive players and strictly defensive players.
While it won't show in the first quarter, could this be a disadvantage throughout the course of a 48-minute game?
"I don't think it's a disadvantage. High school football games allow an athlete to be conditioned enough to not come off the field," Nichol said. "Maybe it's a little harder than it was in my day, because they throw more, but over the years, there have been a lot of players that play both ways."
In fact, Nichol said that when he was growing up and playing football, it was one of his and his teammates' goals to not come off the field at all during a game.
"Our goal when we played football was to not come off the field. I think a lot of our guys feel the same way. They want to be out there for every play," Nichol said. "I always say we are going to play our best 11 in a competitive situation, and I think they strive to be that. They all want to be on the field every play. That's the kind of guys there are."
The Chucks are coming off a 34-18 win over the Knights.
If you watch the film of the game or heck, if you even talk to anyone that was there, they can tell you what happened.
Seriously, you can just say his name and that sums up the ballgame.
Falgout toted the rock a whopping 32 times for 185 yards rushing and three scores on the ground.
Needless to say, the Chucks counted on the run.
But what happens when a team schemes against the run, coach?
I mean, after watching film sessions throughout the season, won't they be able to key in on what Nichol and the Chucks like to do?
"I believe so. I think that's why as much as I like to run the ball and control the ball, we work very hard in all parts of our game," Nichol said. "In a game against a really good team that is stopping the run, you have to be able to pass effectively. People ask me what I like to do on offense. Well, I like to do what's effective."
And what's been effective so far has been the run.
Looking at the stats through two games, the Chucks have attempted just
30 passes and completed 15 of them between quarterbacks Matt Burkett and Dakota Thomas.
Thomas has just one completion to Parker Weaver that went for a 48-yard touchdown against blown coverage in last week's game against Union.
As for Burkett, who is more of the pocket-passer of the two, he's averaging a miniscule 2.857 yards per completion.
Only one receiver for the Chucks has more than three receptions (Clayton Dale), and none have eclipsed the 100-yard plateau in a game yet.
So when that time comes, does Nichol have faith that his team will be able to come out and pass the ball?
"Generally, if you have plans A, B, C and D, and all you're counting on is plan A without having B, C and D on the same level as plan A, you're not going to do well. We try to develop all parts of our game and take advantage of all the skills of our players," Nichol said. "We believe that we can pass the ball, and we're going to continue to develop that so that we have more tricks in the bag than just one thing that someone can stop."
Like Nichol said, it's all about having the best 11 guys on the field and doing what's effective.
If doing that results in gaining victories, I think Nichol, the team and the fans will be just fine with that.