Turnovers cost Chucks district title
DUBOIS — During the Punxsy football team's perfect regular season, the Chucks very rarely turned the ball over.
Four Punxsy turnovers tipped what was a close game through three-plus quarters in Clearfield's favor, as the Bisons exited E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois with the 2010 District IX Class AAA Championship after a 26-14 victory over the Chucks.
The Bisons intercepted Punxsy junior quarterback Logan Weaver three times and forced Weaver to fumble the ball inside Clearfield territory during the second half. Two of those interceptions came on Punxsy's first two possessions and led to a pair touchdowns, and the third pickoff resulted in a return for a touchdown.
Clearfield senior running back/cornerback Derek Morgan scored all four of his team's touchdowns — two on the ground, one through the air and one off an interception of Weaver.
In what was a battle of two undefeated teams, the Chucks fell for the first and only time this season, finishing their 2010 campaign with a 10-1 record.
"We're hurting a little bit today, because winners don't like to lose. Winners like to come out on top," Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol said. "But Clearfield played a good game, and that's the way it goes."
The Bisons (11-0) advanced to the state playoffs to face District VI Champion Greater Johnstown next Friday or Saturday. The Trojans defeated Bellefonte Friday night, 49-8.
"We beat a real good football team. Our kids played very well and we persevered," Clearfield coach Tim Janocko said. "We just kept working hard and made some plays down the wire, and that was the difference in the game."
Morgan rushed for 133 yards on 29 carries — accounting for more than half of his team's 251 yards of offense. His four-yard touchdown run with 5:36 remaining in the game helped Clearfield jump ahead 19-7, and on Punxsy's first play from scrimmage after that, he caught a tipped ball near the middle of the field and returned the interception for a 30-yard touchdown that deflated Punxsy's comeback attempts.
"We were starting to run out of time a little bit, so we had to come out and go for broke," Nichol said. "Clearfield's secondary played a really good game. They changed coverages well and ran the ball well."
The Chucks were able to cut the deficit to 26-14 by scoring their second touchdown with 2:54 left in the game, but with just one timeout remaining, Punxsy was unable to recover the ensuing onside kick.
Morgan was the star of the game, cleary affecting the Chucks on both sides of the ball.
After the Chucks trimmed an early deficit from 12-0 to 12-7, they were 30 yards away from taking the lead into halftime. But on fourth-and-five, Morgan deflected a would-be Punxsy first-down completion, forcing the Chucks to turn the ball over on downs.
Weaver, who threw for more than 1,000 yards this year and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17:2 this season, was held to just 7-for-15 passing for 57 yards with one TD and three INTs.
"He was the best quarterback we've played all year, no doubt in my mind," Janocko said. "Our secondary made some great plays to intercept him three times. It was huge for us and was the difference in the game."
Keeping Punxsy in the game was the Chucks' rushing game, which managed 174 yards on 36 carries. Leading the way was Jason Fallara, with 108 yards rushing on 20 attempts.
Weaver was intercepted by Shane Harper on Punxsy's fifth play from scrimmage to start the game, and his 41-yard return put Clearfield on the 10-yard line.
Two plays later, and after a false start, Curtis Frye hooked up with Morgan for a 12-yard touchdown with 9:15 remaining in the first quarter. Punxsy blocked the PAT, keeping the deficit at 6-0.
Punxsy's next play from scrimmage was intercepted by Frye, who, along with Morgan, led the Bisons toward a nine-play drive that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown rush by Morgan.
Clearfield was unable to convert the two-point try, but was ahead 12-0 just eight minutes into the game.
Punxsy answered with a 10-play, 69-yard drive, which was capped off by a five-yard touchdown run by Fallara. He rushed for 30 yards on the drive.
Both teams put together long drives after Fallara's touchdown, but both ended with a turnover on downs.
After four-straight runs by Morgan netted only nine yards to start the second half, Punxsy moved the ball to Clearfield's 30-yard line, only for Weaver to be sacked while he fumbled the ball. Beau Swales recovered at the 41-yard line, giving the Bisons a short field again.
Both teams followed with their only punts of the game before the Bisons converted on a pair of key third downs during a 91-yard touchdown drive.
Ben Blazavich caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Weaver with 2:54 left, but Punxsy would never see the ball again after Clearfield recovered the onside kick.
Frye completed 6-of-9 passes for 79 yards. Along with Morgan rushing the ball for 4.6 yards per carry, the Bisons were constantly moving the ball and chewing up the clock.
"Derek Morgan is quite a talent, and they throw the ball to a lot of different receivers," Nichol said. "They had us spread out pretty good. We tried to make some adjustments. At times, we were able to stop them."
Punxsy had just nine possessions during the game. Four ended on turnovers, two concluded on turnovers on downs, the Chucks scored two touchdowns, and they punted once.
The loss was Punxsy's first to a District IX opponent since Week 2 of the 2009 season against DuBois, breaking a string of 18-straight District IX victories. The Chucks' 18-game regular season winning streak is still intact, and they'll try to add to that next season.
"You can't ask any more than we've asked of these young men," Nichol said. "We're very proud of the way the season went."
Frank Foreman contributed to this report.