There's no place like home: Punxsy defeats Union in home opener
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Fifty years ago to the day, the 1963 Punxsutawney Chucks kicked off their legendary season.
The Chucks finished the season 10-0 and became instant legends in the town.
Fifty years later, on the night of the current Chucks' home opener, the legends returned.
After a battle of attrition last week went to Brookville 25-22 in Punxsy's season opener, it's not like the Chucks needed any extra motivation.
If they did, though, they found it with the 1963 legends, who were honored at halftime.
While the loss last week assures that Punxsy won't reach the historic feat set by its predecessors, the Chucks did their best impersonation en route to a 34-18 victory over the Union Knights.
"This was a fantastic night. The young men wanted to win so bad this week," head coach Alan Nichol said. "It was the home opener with a big crowd up there. We knew that the 1963 team was in town. We knew that and really put our heart and soul to give us the best chance to win the game. I really can't say enough about the players' effort."
Nichol and the Chucks wasted no time getting that effort going.
After winning the toss, the Chucks elected to receive to set the tone early on.
Punxsy showed its hand early on that it was going to run the ball.
On the first drive of the game, running back Christian Falgout had seven carries for 23 yards with a one-yard touchdown run to cap it off.
"We wanted to take the ball if we won the toss and wanted to get ahead," Nichol said. "We knew that Union was fast on film and scored 37 points last week, so we wanted to get out ahead and play our game."
Following a three-and-out on the defensive side, the Chucks looked to score on their first two possessions of the game.
Establishing the run once again, Falgout took the rock twice for gains of 21 and 17 consecutively.
Keeping the defense honest, Dakota Thomas rolled out to his left and found a wide open Parker Weaver streaking down the sidelines.
Weaver went untouched for a 49-yard touchdown.
After trading scoreless possessions into the second quarter, the Knights made a mark on the scoreboard for the first time.
On a critical fourth down play, the Chucks were called for a pass interference, which set up Union for a first down at the 11-yard line.
Union quarterback Lane Cicciarelli found Shane Murphy for an 11-yard strike, pulling the Knights within eight after the failed two-point conversion.
Punxsy had one more three-and-out before heading into the locker room for halftime.
With Union getting the ball at the half, coach Nichol gave his team a speech and reminded them about the men who were being honored on the
"It's something that we've been talking about all week. We talked about that fact that these guys are remembered for their determination and their desire," Nichol said. "You need to be determined and believe in hard work. We believe coach Hart's teams were hard working and didn't take any shortcuts. That's the kind of team that we want to be."
The speech seemed to resonate to each and every one of the Chucks players as Union got the ball to start the second half.
The Chucks forced three consecutive negative plays by the Knights, ultimately resulting in a fourth down and 32 from their own five-yard line.
"I think the one thing is that our run defense has improved quite a bit this week," Nichol said. "We didn't give up anything really. That really turned the tide for us and gave us the chance to take over in the second half."
And the Chucks did just that.
On the possession that followed the defensive stand, the Chucks mixed in a little pass with the run.
Quarterback Matt Burkett found Dakotah Byers for an eight-yard gain on third down to keep the sticks moving.
After Falgout and Perry Arrington carried the Chucks to the six-yard line, Burkett found Falgout streaking towards the end zone off a play-action pass for the score.
With the strength of the run, the Chucks were able to set up their passing game.
"Our quarterbacks continue to pay well and gel," Nichol said. "They're both having their first real experiences at quarterback. The good plays that they both produced show that we're all on the same page. They're athletes and football players and just want our team to win."
Leading 21-6 going into the fourth quarter, the Chucks looked to increase their lead. Nichol rode Arrington and Falgout to another score.
The five-yard scamper was Falgout's second rushing touchdown of the evening and his third overall.
Union was quick to strike back, as Cicciarelli hit Murphy for a 50-yard strike. The score pulled the Knights within 16 at 28-12.
Looking to grind the clock and the game away, Nichol continued to run his star running back.
Falgout answered the Knights' score with another five-yard rushing touchdown to push the score to 34-12.
The Knights would capitalize once more through the air, as Cicciarelli continued to show poise in the pocket. The quarterback once again connected with Murphy on a two-yard touchdown pass to make the score 34-18.
The Chucks took over the ball, and despite Union having two timeouts left, Nichol was able to run down the clock. Once again, he turned to his senior back until the time struck zero.
Over the course of the game, Falgout carried the rock 32 times for 186 yards and three rushing touchdowns, as well as his five-yard receiving score.
"The thing is, he has worked very hard to be the person to carry the ball 32 times. He did it in the last two years. He has a fantastic work ethic," Nichol said. "That's what he wants to do. He wants the ball. I didn't know how many times he carried it, but we kept our eye on him to give him a break here and there. He's worked very hard putting hours in to be that kind of athlete."
Fresh off the first win of the season, the Punxsy Chucks will travel to DuBois next week to take on the Beavers.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.