PUNXSUTAWNEY — Once a year, the football game is more than a football game: It's Homecoming. Tonight is that night, when in addition to a larger crowd and the crowning of the Homecoming Queen, the Chucks will take on the Karns City Gremlins in a 7 p.m. kickoff.
"It's great excitement," Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol said of the homecoming atmosphere. "It's nice to have a big crowd up there, and we're so fortunate to be supported. There's always a nice crowd, and this just heightens it and makes it more enjoyable for the players."
Nichol and the Chucks hope to put on a good show for the variety of fans who will show up.
"Some will be there for the band, some for the football team, some for the cheerleaders, and then you have the Homecoming Court and their families," he said. "It makes it a lot of fun for everyone, and we're glad to be a part of it."
But after all the excitement, Nichol and his squad also know that they will have to get down to business against a worthy opponent in Karns City.
"They're 2-2 just like we are," Nichol said. "They've played some really good football, though. They're one of the best teams in the KSAC Large, so we need to play well, but I know we're ready for that challenge."
Nichol says he really likes what he's seen in practice this past week coming off a convincing effort on both sides of the ball in a 28-0 shutout at Clarion-Limestone last Friday.
"It's been a good week, and coming off a win's always a lot of fun," Nichol said. "I think we're progressing, seeing some real improvement in some of our areas, and that's good to see."
One area Punxsy showed great improvement in last week was time of possession, coming up big on defense by making key stops when needed and earning three-and-outs. Punxsy's offense also ran the ball efficiently and effectively to keep the clock in Punxsy's favor: A task that may be a bit more difficult against Karns City tonight.
"Karns City is very hard to prepare for," Nichol said. "They run a variety of different looks on offense. They run the I-formation and do a lot of option out of that. They also run some one-back sets with slots in motion with more of a wing-T trapping offense, and you've got to stay home and do your job. And, like everyone else, they'll spread you out. They're always a good running team, and we've got to be able to handle all their different looks."
Nichol said his squad has put in a few extra reps at practice working against the option — a look they haven't seen much of this season.
"You have to emphasize your assignments and not get out of control or get caught inside and lose your contain," he said. "Someone has to have the quarterback and the pitch. They run that option out of lots of looks, so you have to pay attention to your assignment."
On the defensive end of the field, Nichol called the Gremlins' scheme a "simple one," but he didn't mean that as an insult.
"They are a very basic football team," he said. "They run a lot of the old 5-2 defense, though they will play man out of that. But they're solid up front, and they've been one of the best programs in District IX under coach (Ed) Conto. When they simplify things, it looks easy to handle, but when you see how well they know their assignments, you know you're in for a battle. That's what we're in for."
After playing so well last week, the Chucks haven't made a lot of changes, but they have been continually working on some of the changes they made entering last week, including a few position changes.
"We made a couple changes last week," Nichol said. "Josh Neal's getting more comfortable at tight end. Hayden Muth's been doing a great job for us as a blocking back, too. We moved him around and gave him some different assignments. Overall, I like how those two young men are responding for us."
And as is usually the case when a team dominates the clock and runs the ball well, the Chucks have seen strides in the play of their offensive line.
"We continue to see improvement on the offensive line," Nichol said. "Jonathan Voss started his first game, and he's gaining some valuable experience in getting to work with some of the older guys like Jake Shiock. We'll hopefully be able to control these games on the ground, because that plays a big part in our success."
A final strength the Gremlins have that Punxsy would love to have an answer for is their depth.
"They play a lot of players, and they're very team-oriented," Nichol said. "Their stars will be out there, but they have a lot of depth and lots of seniors. They're a machine the way they run it, so it's really going to be a good challenge for us. Glenn Toy is their running back, and he's really good. He'd be getting it every other play in lots of programs, but the way they run things and spread it out is very effective."
On Homecoming night, the Chucks hope to come with a win.
Their quest to do so will begin with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Jack LaMarca Stadium.