STRATTANVILLE — Tonight, two 1-2 teams will face off as the Punxsy Chucks travel to Strattanville to take on the Clarion-Limestone Lions — a team that plays a defensive style quite familiar to the Chucks, as it mimics that of the St. Marys Dutchmen, who Punxsy faced last Friday.
"On defense, they play a similar style to St. Marys," Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol said. "So, that's a concern. We'll have to come out and execute the game plan, and it's up to us to make those adjustments.
"It's a good challenge in the fact that they run the 3-5 that other teams are running. Having eight guys in the box is always a challenge, and we're kind of looking forward to seeing what we learned and how we handle it this week."
For Punxsy on the defensive side of the ball, Nichol liked what he saw out of his players last week, despite a disappointing fourth quarter that included three big rushing plays by the Dutchmen.
"I think this week, we picked up right where we left off defensively," he said. "We took some steps forward; we just weren't able to finish, and hats off to St. Marys. They ran the ball hard, and they're a pretty potent offense.
"But for three quarters, we handled them pretty well. As far as practice goes, we are continuing to take steps forward on defense, but as we mature as a team, something has to happen for the whole 48 minutes."
Still, Punxsy's glaring issue that Nichol faces on a weekly basis is one that he has little control over: A small squad.
"I think it's a depth thing," he said. "We continue to work on our depth. We have a small squad, and as you work on things, someone has to be on the other side of the ball."
Nichol said that the team's problem isn't an issue of conditioning.
It's just difficult to practice and play with so few players.
"We're conditioned," he said. "There's no difference between this team and any other I've coached. It's just a large load on the varsity players because of the numbers. We continue to work on that, and I think the players have showed guts."
Nichol is confident it's definitely not a lack of effort on his team's part, either.
"We're going to try to win these games, and they're working hard enough to do that," he said. "That being said, you can see that we've got a lot of guys on the field for a lot of plays."
Nichol continues to see strides in developing the depth with his younger players in practice, though.
"We've got some younger guys who are stepping up," he said. "Robbie Barnes and Zach Minich played well inside last week, and Daniel McLain is helping out there, as well. On special teams, Nick Paulina and Zach Bevak are stepping up. Those are the kind of guys we're counting on to carry more load as the season goes on."
Punxsy's offense struggled last Friday to move the ball against St. Marys' defense, which frequently had seven or eight men up front to stop the run, yet defended the pass well by putting pressure on quarterback Garrett Zimmerman.
The Chucks hope for more success this week, especially in the running game.
"On offense, there are some real strides being made in the running game," Nichol said. "We really worked on it this week, and one of our goals is to come out and run the football. St. Marys caused us some problems, but we've come out from day one and worked hard on that. I'm confident we've improved."
One key to staying fresh is maintaining possession and controlling the clock.
"Controlling the football is a key thing, because it's easier on your team to control the ball," Nichol said. "But good defenses rise up and play and get three-and-outs, which we did for a lot of last week's game. It's the nature of the game that you want to control the ball."
The Lions' offense is led by senior quarterback Billy Kelley, and has been known as what Nichol called a "wide-open" team.
"They weren't so much that way last year, but they've returned to that," he said. "They spread the ball around pretty well."
Nichol is looking for a full 48-minute effort from his squad tonight and hopes they bring home the victory.
The Chucks and Lions are scheduled for a later-than-usual 7:30 p.m. kickoff tonight in Strattanville.