Punxsy's passing game, turnover-creating defense lead to win over Raiders
PUNXSUTAWNEY — If you can't stop the pass and turn the ball over three times in the second half, you won't win many games.
The Raiders found that out the hard way Friday night, as Punxsutawney turned a 9-6 halftime lead into a 37-6 drubbing of Brookville to not only win the Route 36 Gridiron Cup, but also claim the first-ever KSAC Large School Division championship.
"It's a very good feeling. We want to be a championship program, so we work all year to do that," Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol said. "To be able to come out here against a fine Brookville team and have such a good game and good performance on the part of our players, that's what it's really all about."
A close contest early exploded into a one-sided affair as the Raiders (7-2, 3-1) handed the ball over three times to the Chucks early in the second half, allowing Punxsy to score 21 points off turnovers.
The one constant throughout the game came at the quarterback position for the Chucks. When Punxsy (9-0, 4-0) put together a scoring drive, junior Logan Weaver was often the catalyst, throwing for 226 yards on 17-of-25 passing, all season highs for Weaver.
Perhaps more importantly, three of those passes went for touchdowns, bringing his touchdown passes to interceptions ratio to a cool 17-2.
"Logan's been doing this for about three years," Nichol said. "The passing game went how it had to go because they're so tough up front. We think defense and running the ball is important to win championships, but tonight, Logan Weaver showed what he can do.
"He's had a lot to do with controlling the football game, almost like a coach out there because we have such a multiple offense," Nichol said. "He has to be able to know what's going on because there's a lot on his plate."
For the Raiders, the first half provided plenty of reasons to be happy with a three-point deficit at halftime, but for head coach Chris Dworek, it was pretty simple where things went wrong for Brookville.
"Simply, it was turnovers and a good team taking advantage of it," Dworek said.
Brookville got the ball to start the second half, and after moving it to midfield on five plays, quarterback Steven Kennedy couldn't connect on a handoff in the backfield, allowing the ball to hit the ground. Punxsy's Ben Blazavich pounced on the loose ball, setting the Chucks up with great field position.
Blazavich was rewarded for his defensive prowess when Weaver connected with the senior on the second play of the drive for a 26-yard gain, putting the ball inside of the Raiders' red zone.
After a two-yard gain by Glenn Perry, Weaver found Duell Thompson for a 12-yard strike to set up the Chucks with a first-and-goal from the two. Perry took the handoff on the ensuing play and punched it in for the score, making it 16-6 with 7:21 left in the third quarter.
"We talked about leadership and being able to bounce back under tough times, and we couldn't do it," Dworek said. "Turnovers are a part of the game, and that happens. We just didn't accept the challenge very well. We gave up turnovers, got deflated and kept our heads down too much."
In need of an answer, the Raiders were unable to find one, as they went three-and-out on the following drive, setting Punxsy up on its own 32-yard line.
The Chucks took advantage of their stingy defense by putting together a 12-play, 68-yard drive, capped off by a Zak Dickey 10-yard touchdown catch to push the lead to 23-6 in favor of Punxsy.
A crucial pass interference call on third-and-17 against Brookville kept the drive going, allowing Weaver to throw for 45 yards on three completions during the scoring drive.
Things went from bad to worse for Brookville, as an interception thrown by Cameron Yard on a wide receiver reverse pass on the first play of the next drive was picked off by Thompson, who returned the interception to Brookville's 25-yard line.
Punxsy made Brookville pay, as Weaver rolled to his left and rushed for an eight-yard touchdown on fourth-and-four seven plays into the drive to make it 30-6.
Just when things couldn't seem to get any worse for Brookville, running back Ryan Kerr was stripped of the ball by Devon Luzell on the first play from scrimmage once again to give Punxsy the ball back again.
Weaver once again made the Raiders pay for the mistake when he found Dickey for a five-yard touchdown pass with 7:41 left in the game to make it 37-6.
Quite frankly, Brookville could not stop Weaver through the air.
"It was just execution. They are a very good team, and they took advantage of what was there," Dworek said. "They didn't pass that much against other teams, but that's because it wasn't there as much. Forcing a team to be one-dimentional should be a benefit to us."
It was a completely different game in the first half, as Brookville appeared to be just as strong as the Chucks.
After both teams traded punts to start the game, Punxsy put together a 13- play drive, capped off by a Corban Cressley 11-yard touchdown grab to make it 6-0 following a blocked extra point by Brookville's Justin Snyder.
The Raiders answered in a big way by putting together an impressive drive of their own, highlighted by a Brock Bietz 31-yard grab on third-and-seven near midfield to keep the drive moving.
Kerr scored two plays later to tie the game, but an excessive celebration penalty following the score pushed Brookville back 15 yards on the extra point. Yard's point after try missed left, and the game stayed tied at six.
Punxsy got the lead back when Kody Young drilled a 33-yard field goal to make it 9-6 with 6:53 left in the half.
Brookville drove the ensuing possession deep into Punxsy territory, but turned the ball over on downs with 35 seconds left in the half, ending what could have been a big drive in the contest.
"That was a hollow chance," Dworek said. "Moving the ball and not taking advantage of having them on their heels a bit was rough."
Weaver certainly dominated the game, but there's no denying that Brookville's turnovers truly made the difference.
"Turnovers play a big, important part of the game," Nichol said. "We have a lot of seniors on that field — a lot of experience. It seems like we've been able to win that turnover battle. Our turnover margin is very large, and it's won some big games for us."
Brookville had success running the ball, highlighted by Kerr, who finished with 105 yards on 24 carries. Kennedy threw for 86 yards in the losing effort.
Leading the rushing attack for Punxsy was Blazavich with 49 yards.
Dickey led the Chucks with 75 yards receiving, and Blazavich followed with 74 yards. Thompson managed 50 yards receiving.
For the second-straight year, the Gridiron Cup will remain in Punxsy. For everyone involved with the Brookville/Punxsy rivalry, the Cup holds value. For the players, it's means a lot.
"I guess they went after it pretty well whenever they were given it," Nichol said of his players. "It's one of those things where Brookville comes in and lets us know they want to compete with us.
"That's a credit to Brookville," he said. "It heightens everybody's awareness of what they need to do and how to be a good, tough and hard-nosed football player. That's what we have to do to beat Brookville."
With the league championship in hand, there's still work to be done for the Chucks, as a win against West Shamokin next week may be needed in order to clinch a playoff berth. West Shamokin lost Friday and is now 0-9.
"More than anything, in my heart, we're still the District IX Triple-A Champions," Nichol said. "We'd like the chance to defend that."