PUNXSUTAWNEY — On a cold and drizzly Homecoming evening Friday at Jack LaMarca Stadium in Punxsutawney, the Gremlins of Karns City edged out the Chucks 21-20 to put a damper on the celebration.
Despite the loss, though, Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol said he was very pleased with his team's 48-minute effort.
"You can't ask for more from a group of young men then to go out and play 48 minutes, and they sure did that, because we were right where we wanted to be," he said. "At the end, we had an opportunity to win the game against a very good football team."
Punxsy's opportunity came with just over five minutes remaining in the final quarter after the Gremlins took a 21-20 lead with a 13-yard touchdown run by Alex Kinkela.
The Chucks received the ensuing kickoff, and returned the ball to the 27-yard line where their final drive began.
On the first play, Jamie Bush ran a quick-hitter up the middle for three yards, and on second down, quarterback Garrett Zimmerman hit Clayton Dale for a 12-yard pick-up and a first down.
It looked as if the drive might stall after a short run by Zimmerman and a one-yard loss on a screen pass to Dale, but Zimmerman connected with Luke Janocha, who fought for a few extra yards after the catch to pick up the first down just inside Gremlins' territory.
After two plays for no gain, Zimmerman connected with Janocha again — this time for 23 yards — to set up the Chucks inside the 25-yard line with less than two minutes to play.
After one shot at the end zone and two pass attempts that barely missed connecting through the hands of Zimmerman's receivers, the Chucks were in a precarious fourth-and-15 with the game on the line.
Zimmerman dropped back and lofted a pass toward the left pylon for Janocha, and although the pass fell incomplete, the Gremlins' Brandyn Bowser was called for a pass interference call giving the Chucks a first down at the 15.
Zimmerman looked for Janocha in the end zone again on first down, but Bowser redeemed himself with a beautiful play to break up the scoring attempt.
Zimmerman's next pass was deflected and fell into the Gremlins' hands, ending the scoring threat and Punxsy's chances of winning.
Karns City kneeled on the ball three consecutive times, and the clock wound to zero, sealing Karns City's 21-20 victory.
"We knew we were in for a good 48 minutes of football, and I couldn't be prouder," Nichol said. "Anyone who saw that game knows it was a great high school football game. We continued to see improvement by guys who have a half-season of experience now."
After opening kickoff, the first quarter of the game was all Punxsy, and it looked like Homecoming would have a happy ending.
Karns City started the game with the ball, and on its first offensive play, quarterback Brady Ellenberger fumbled the exchange. Ellenberger recovered the fumble himself but lost five yards, and the Gremlins were forced to punt after a six-yard run and an incomplete pass.
The Chucks gave Karns City a heavy dose of their running game on the first drive with Alex Fedigan carrying five consecutive plays, including a 51-yard breakout sweep, to bring the Chucks to the one-yard line.
On third-and-goal, Fedigan was stopped inches short of a touchdown, but the Chucks went for it on fourth down, and Zimmerman punched in the keeper to give the Chucks the 6-0 lead.
Christian Falgout added the extra point to extend the lead to seven.
The Chucks recovered the ensuing kickoff after Tyler Titus kicked the ball over the Gremlins' front line and by Alex Bevak.
Punxsy's second drive looked much like its first, except Zimmerman connected with Bevak for a 10-yard gain in the middle of the five running plays, and Zimmerman punched in his second score of the game from inside the one. Falgout's second extra point made it 14-0 Punxsy.
"We came out with intensity, and I think it's coming," Nichol said. "Anyone who came out to watch tonight knows that. You know, (Karns City) is a team with 17 seniors, and we matched their intensity and played even with them. We took advantage of some breaks in the first half and capitalized on them."
Unfortunately, with the beginning of the second quarter came the rain, and the breaks started going Karns City's way, as well.
Karns City was efficient on its next drive, going 60 yards on 15 plays capped by a two-yard touchdown by Jerod Hutchison, who also added the extra point to bring the Gremlins within a touchdown.
Punxsy went three-and-out on its next drive, and the Gremlins capitalized again after running back Glenn Toy bounced outside and scampered 33 yards for the score. Hutchison's extra point tied the game at 14.
Punxsy struck last in the first half after a nice kickoff return by Caesar Maruca set them up at their own 42-yard line.
After an 18-yard pass from Zimmerman to Janocha moved the Chucks into Gremlin territory, Zimmerman aired it out for Dale, who came up with the catch and broke several tackles on his way into the end zone. The extra point was just wide left, though, which would prove to be the difference in the end.
The things that stood out most to Nichol after the game were how impressive his team's passing game looked from start to finish and how well both of his lines played throughout the game.
"Garrett Zimmerman continues to do a fabulous job," he said. "I really felt we caught the ball well tonight, too. All the guys that caught passes did a good job. Clayton Dale's catch in the first half was big."
Nichol attributed some of the passing success to the fact that Zimmerman's linemen were giving him time to make good reads.
"I thought the offensive line really gave him time tonight," he said. "It was a good effort by them. Matt Rowland played a good game up front tonight. He had a good week of practice, and it showed the way he played out there. Jordan London had a good game, too. Overall, it was just a fantastic effort."
Nichol liked the way his defensive front kept the Gremlins deep running game in-check, too.
"Karns City does a lot of things on the edge, and Josh Neal, Tyler Titus, Jake Shiock and a few younger guys in Robbie Barnes and Zach Minich, if they don't do the job up front, Karns City's the kind of team that can really take advantage of that," Nichol said.
The Chucks may have wanted to win in front of the Homecoming crowd, but Nichol said they also know they can't hang their heads.
"All in all, it was tough because we played such a good game, and it was so close on Homecoming, but the sun'll come up tomorrow, and we'll get back to work," he said. "We're down to half a season to go, and we'll just have to see what happens."