BROOKVILLE — Coming off a four-game skid, the Punxsy Chucks football team hopes to bounce back as it heads into the Route 36 Rivalry game tonight against the Raiders in Brookville. But the Chucks' spirits aren't broken, according to Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol.
"Morale's good," he said. "The bottom line is, for the most part, we have the same team this week that's played tough against Karns City (Sept. 30) and Clarion (Oct. 7). We're getting back together after some injuries, and some of the younger guys have gained experience there. All the components are there, and I'm very confident in their ability. Good leadership has brought us to a point where we can't wait for the game."
The Chucks look to snap their losing skid and pick up the ever-important win over their rival to follow up last year's 37-6 victory over the Raiders. One thing is for certain: The Chucks won't have to look far for motivation leading up to kickoff.
"Having a rivalry game at this time of the season is a real positive," Nichol said. "It kind of gets everyone focused. I know Brookville enjoys the challenge of playing us by the way they carry themselves. We have to come out and play a really good football game. It heightens our urgency and helps us stay focused at practice. It's nice to have a good-spirited competition with such a close community."
Rivalry or no rivalry, though, the Chucks know they have a tough task ahead of them in shutting down Brookville's potent offense, especially quarterback Steve Kennedy.
Kennedy has thrown for 887 yards so far this season with 12 touchdowns to only five interceptions, but he's also a weapon when he tucks the ball under his arm and decides to run. His 68 carries for 442 yards this season make him Brookville's second-best runner this year, as well.
"Kennedy is a real spark- plug for the team," Nichol said. "He's a very good runner, and he makes good decisions of when to run. He's made big plays scrambling and throwing the ball this year, too. We'll go a long way in having success if we can contain him. And on top of his running, he's a senior with a lot of poise."
The Chucks are also aware that shutting down Kennedy won't be enough, as the Raiders have a pair of sophomore running backs in Brodie Zacheral and Zach Vroman who have stepped in for injured senior running back Ryan Kerr and have performed well.
Vroman leads the Raiders with 616 yards on 101 carries this season, and Zacheral is averaging over nine yards per carry for Brookville.
"Overall, their team speed is good," Nichol said. "Their backfield has good speed, and its one of those things where they're dangerous enough that when they get the ball out on the edge, we have to contain them and play disciplined football."
Nichol doesn't give all the credit to the specialty players, either. He also noted that the play of the Raiders' offensive line is one of the determining factors in their running success.
"They've got good size and good offensive line play," Nichol said. "Their speed combined with that makes them very difficult to defend."
After focusing on the Raiders for a while, Nichol returned to thinking about his team and what will work for them this week, and one thing that stands out is the fact that his team's finally starting to get healthy.
Senior wide receiver Luke Janocha missed the Chucks' game two weeks ago against Moniteau, and although he played on Senior Night last week against Redbank Valley, he's returning to form.
"Luke seems to be on the mend, and he's getting back into really good form out there," Nichol said. "We've had a lot of shuffling going on prior to this past week."
Junior Daniel McLain may also see some time this week at a position unfamiliar to him, as he spent most of the year fighting for time at the linebacker position, which is one of the Chucks' strengths. Tonight, he'll also be lined up at safety for some of the snaps, but McLain is just one of many Nichol said is working to improve and contribute to the team in any manner possible.
"Daniel's going to step up and play some safety for us this week, and that's one thing we're really looking forward to seeing how it plays out," Nichol said. "We've worked really hard to improve ourselves, and this is just a good group of young men to work with."
After trailing 42-0 at halftime last Friday, Punxsy knows one key to victory is to start strong and maintain that strength throughout the game.
"Spirits are high," Nichol said. "You get down a bit when you lose some games, but these young men come to work every day, and there's a lot of good spirited practice. Sooner or later, things'll turn around. We just hope it's in the first quarter this week and not later in the game."
Punxsy fans hope so, too, as the Chucks hope to bring the Route 36 Rivalry trophy back home with a victory.