Missed it by that much: Chucks drop to 2-3 despite late rally
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Stopping Alex Feldbauer was goal No. 1 for the Punxsutawney Chucks on Friday night.
Head Coach Alan Nichol preached it to his team all week.
Feldbauer entered play with nearly 800 yards on the season for the St.
Marys Flying Dutch.
The Chucks were able to hold Feldbauer to 114 yards in Friday night's game, but unfortunately, they were unable to come away with the victory, dropping to 2-3 with a 12-6 loss.
"They came into the game with a great running game, and had to do everything in their power to score 12 points," Nichol said. "I think that's a great effort by our guys. We've been practicing hard, and we have a lot of young guys. To come up with an effort like that is certainly something to build on."
With most of the focus on Feldbauer, the Chucks forced quarterback Nick Cunningham to beat them.
Nichol said he tips his cap to Cunningham, as he threw for an unofficial total of 112 yards.
"You gameplan coming in against a high-powered offense and have a guy that has gained almost 800 yards in four games," Nichol said. "It's no easy challenge to stop that running game. Defensively, we did what we needed to do to win the game."
While they have a star back, head coach Joe Schlimm said he expected Nichol to key on Feldbauer, which led to him putting the game in Cunningham's hands.
"After he's rushed for that many yards in the first four games, we kind of figured they were going to key on him. It's kind of hard to keep the secret on him," Schlimm said with a laugh. "Punxsy did a tremendous job keeping him in check. We had very little running room with [Alex]. We had to open up our offense a little bit."
Despite keying on Feldbauer for the entire game, he was able to find paydirt in the second quarter with a four-yard rush to put St. Marys ahead 6-0.
In similar fashion, the Chucks were unable to get anything going on the ground either.
It looks like both coaches had the same gameplan entering the game, as the Flying Dutch were able to hold Punxsy running back Christian Falgout to an unofficial 36 yards on the ground.
"They're the first team that has really been able to slow down our running attack," Nichol said. "They were able to key on the running game and bottle it up."
Schlimm said that his team came into the game focused on shutting down Falgout.
"He's a good running back. He reminded me a lot of Zach Vroman from Brookville," Schlimm said. "I thought coming in, that he was their best weapon and the guy that we needed to focus on. They threw the ball well, which is something that we really didn't prepare for."
And the Chucks did throw the ball well....at times.
On the sixth play of the game for the Chucks, quarterback Matt Burkett was able to find Dakotah Byers streaking down the sidelines for a 54-yard gain, but the Chucks couldn't punch the ball in.
As the time ticked away in the first quarter, Burkett once again found Byers, this one for a 30-yard gain.
But again, the Chucks were unable to get across the goaline.
"We had some opportunities out there, but we just weren't able to get into the end zone at certain times," Nichol said.
The Chucks were trailing 6-0 at the half, but broke through on their first drive of the second half, when Burkett found Byers for a 12-yard touchdown to make the score 6-6.
After shutting St. Marys down on its next drive, the Chucks continued to try to run the ball down the field and got to St. Marys' 13-yard-line.
This time, however, the passing backfired, as Burkett forced a ball into the end zone and was picked off.
All was even as the game reached the fourth quarter, and that's when the real excitement started.
St. Marys opened up the quarter with a 14-play drive, resulting in a touchdown.
Cunningham connected with Tyler Yetzer for a 14-yard touchdown, making the score 12-6.
Looking to rally the Chucks with 6:52 left in the game, Burkett once again dropped in the pocket, but due to miscommunication with his receiver, he threw another interception.
The Flying Dutch proceeded to use their workhorse and run the ball — and time — down against the Chucks.
Feldbauer converted a fourth-and-two to put Punxsy in a tough spot.
However, due to some impressive interior line play, the Chucks were able to force the Flying Dutch to turn the ball over on downs with just 1:22 left in the game.
With no timeouts and his team starting on its own 17-yard-line, Burkett went to work.
Burkett found Byers — who shined defensively as well — on a big third-and-10 to move the chains forward.
Burkett continued to look downfield at both Byers and Clayton Dale in hopes of pulling off a miracle.
On first down, Burkett stepped back in the pocket, squared his shoulders and let the ball fly down the sideline.
Byers went up with a St. Marys defender and got his hands on the ball, but as you can see in the picture, the Flying Dutch defender was able to get his hands on the ball to jar it free.
Burkett would attempt three more passes, but eventually, the Chucks ran out of downs and ran out of hope.
For Schlimm, he said his heart didn't stop until the game was officially over.
"I was nervous," Schlimm said with a laugh. "When you're putting your fate in a bunch of 16 and 17 year olds, you never know what you're going to get. We never thought anything until the final horn went."
Despite turning the ball over twice, Nichol said he was proud of his team and very proud of his quarterback.
"There was a lot of pride out there by those young men. There's no doubt about that," Nichol said. "We don't like to lose; there's no denying that. You have to give some credit to St. Marys. I can't say enough about that group of guys."
The Chucks return to action next Friday at Clarion-Limestone.