PUNXSUTAWNEY — Rivalries are always the most anticipated contests of each year for sports teams. No matter what type of season a team is having, if the most heated foe can be defeated, all adversity that is faced can be forgotten.
The 2012 version of the Route 36 Trophy contest will not have to wait and be anticipated for weeks to come.
The Brookville Raiders will invade Jack F. LaMarca Stadium this evening starting at 7 p.m. to kick-off the 2012 campaign against the Punxsy Chucks on the gridiron.
"The KSAC (Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference) changes its schedule every two years, and it is just the way the new schedule was made," explains Chucks fourth-year head coach Alan Nichol. "We play the schedule the league makes, and it just happens to begin with Brookville tonight."
The series will be renewed this evening after the 2011 chapter took place in Week 9, a Brookville 27-14 victory, on Oct. 28 in Brookville. The Raiders jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead where they held the Chucks to minus-two yards. Brookville (5-6) finished with a 311-158 yard advantage and picked off four passes on the night.
As any good rivalry, the first 41 meetings have resulted in a slim Punxsy advantage, 22-19, in the win column. The Chucks broke a run of seven-straight Raiders wins (2002-08) with back-to-back victories of their own — 29-12 in 2009 and 37-6 in the 2010 affair and last matchup to take place in Punxsutawney.
The preparations for the Route 36 contest will be a little different for tonight due to the time when the meeting takes place at the top of the schedule.
"When you prepare during the preseason, you pack all the team is going to do through the season, but your main focus is on having good practices," said Nichol. "It is always different going into the first game, as your team's strengths and weaknesses change from year to year, as that is the nature of the high school game.
"You do your best to prepare for that first game but it is a true challenge as that is the way the first game is. We have been able to get looks at Brookville's two scrimmages, but it does help when you do have a lot of knowledge of what they like to do and what their personnel has been in the past."
Nichol, who takes a 22-11 mark leading the Chucks into the year, aims to show last season's tough 3-7 campaign was just a rock in the road and not what is to be expected. For this to be the case, the veteran coach will turn to his 17 returning letter-winners dotting Punxsy's lineup starting tonight.
The Chucks upperclassmen are expected to be the real strength of the team with quarterback Garrett Zimmerman, fullback Jamie Bush and flanker Clayton Dale, an All-KSAC last season, at the skill positions and an offensive line that has been "sometimes sparkling" in its preparations but looking to gain real consistency.
The Punxsy offense will face a Brookville defense known to be tough up front but on where it hopes to have a read as the game progresses.
"We hope through the course of the game to be able to follow a blueprint on how to handle their defensive front as you have to handle each year a bit different especially here in the opener," added Nichol.
The Chucks own defensive unit will look to begin its strides of improvement this evening.
"Brookville is a power team and likes to run," the Chucks general said. "Their quarterback will be eager to run the ball and will be up to our defensive unit to gel early and force them into situations they do not want to be in."
The 42nd meeting and 19th since the Route 36 Trophy will come down, as it always does, to execution.
The only difference in this edition of the rivalry being which club will break out of the preseason in full stride, claim the trophy and start the season off in winning fashion.