PUNXSUTAWNEY — After reclaiming the Route 36 trophy a week ago, the Punxsy Chucks will look to build off the winning momentum in its first road contest of the 2012 gridiron season tonight against the Union Knights.
The Chucks will have their work cut out for them as they will face a veteran Knights squad, who is trying to recapture its past football success as a long time member of the Keystone Shortway Conference.
Punxsy has won the only two previous meetings between the schools with a 33-14 win at home in 2008 and followed it up with a 20-6 decision at Union during the 2009 campaign.
Both squads head into battle off close home victories to start the football season last week. Union held on to pick up a 16-14 win over A-C Valley. The win was the Knights first season-opening victory since the 2000 season when they defeated Moniteau.
Punxsy built a 20-0 lead but had to put together enough late plays to not only regain the scoring advantage but cause two late turnovers to seal a 26-23 win over rival Brookville.
Last year, Union posted its first winning season in recent years with a 7-3 regular season to earn a trip into the District 9A playoffs. The Knights came up short in the playoffs against Port Allegheny by a 37-8 score but the seven wins was more than the program had recorded in both the 2010 (4-6) and 2009 (2-7) seasons combined. In fact, Union had totaled only an 11-37 record in the previous five seasons together before last fall.
“They had a really fantastic football season last year,” confirmed Chucks head coach Alan Nichol. “A lot of the seasoned players from last year returned for them and will make them a tough opponent and real challenge for our first away game of the year.”
The strong senior contingent from Union carried the squad against A-C Valley. Quarterback/Strong Safety Brody Shick accounted for both of his team’s scores of the game. In the first quarter, the 5-9, 150-pound Shick put the Knights on the board with a one-yard plunge before finding senior backfield mate Kaden McGregor on a two-point conversion pass.
Shick picked off a third quarter pass and scampered 35 yards into the endzone to give the Knights the advantage which would hold up the rest of the game. Shick added a second two-point conversation throw to McGregor for a 16-8 lead.
The Falcons pulled to within 16-14 with 3:21 left in the game but a failed two-point conversion helped the Knights claim the contest.
“Union is a solid running team with a quarterback who is both mobile and an accurate passer. They have a precision passing game with a lot of good quickness on that side of the ball,” said Nichol.
“On film, I was impressed with their skill guys and how well disciplined they are.”
Union came up short on yardage against A-C Valley as it was outgained 227-142. Shick finished four of six for 71 yards through the air while adding 19 yards on five carries. Senior back Cody Kline (5-8, 168) paced the Knight ground game with 67 yards on 16 totes as the squad totaled 93 yards on the ground over 29 attempts. Senior wide out Aaron Graham caught two passes for 57 yards as the top target.
“On defense, we feel it is an area we are improving. Brookville tested us and found some gaps,” said the Punxsy coach. “We will need good gap control and hope to improve on defense quite a bit this week with having a little game experience under our belts.”
The Chucks defense will have to rely on a strong effort from their front line against the Knights. The responsibility will fall upon the defensive line to control the line of scrimmage. The tackles of seniors Zach Minich, Brandon Snyder and Derek Mahlberg, junior Jordan London and sophomore Luke Shiock need to get a push in the middle. Defensive ends of senior Alex Bevak and juniors Will Curtis and Brandon Wingert, who forced the key fumble with 55 seconds left in last week’s contest, round out the line that will have to fend off the Union offensive charge.
On the other side of the ball, Punxsy will try to bottle up what it showed for most of the opening half a week ago against Brookville. The Chucks showed razor sharp focus for most of the opening 24 minutes on their way to a 20-6 intermission lead.
Punxsy capitalized on each of its three opening possessions as it found paydirt at the end of each one. Senior Jamie Bush had two touchdown runs of a yard and seven yards with junior Christian Falgout the other from six yards.
The backfield duo of Bush and Falgout had a strong opening contest. Bush was the selected as the Kengersky Agency Player of the Game while Falgout earned D9Sports.com Honor Roll for his performance.
Bush carried the ball 12 times for 65 yards with two touchdowns while recovering the last minute Brookville fumble on defense.
Falgout doubled Bush’s rushes with 23 for 78 yards and a score while returning three kickoffs for 105 yards including a 61-yarder to set up the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 21-20 in the fourth after Falgout’s long kick return, senior quarterback Garrett Zimmerman lofted a pass down the left sideline to junior Clayton Dale for what turned out to be a 30-yard touchdown strike and the game-deciding points.
The 6-2, 215-pound Zimmerman connected on four of seven pass attempts for 78 yards with Dale has 37 yards on two receptions. Bush grabbed the other two completions for 41 yards.
The Chucks offense was outgained 401-220 on the night.
“We will be relying on our power running game again as it done well. The stable of Bush, Falgout and (Caesar) Maruca make it very hard on people and hope that will again be the case Friday night,” Nichol noted.
“Our offense will have to be a bit better of making some game adjustments this week than we were for the middle of the game against Brookville.”
Following the three successful opening drives, the Chucks offense bogged down until finding the key strike from Zimmerman to Dale midway through the fourth stanza with the game on the line.
The drive for two wins to start the 2012 gridiron campaign for Punxsy against a veteran playoff experienced Union club may come down to its focus.
“I hope we can come out and stay focused for the whole 48 minutes against them,” said coach Nichol.
The Chucks keeping an eye on the prize of starting 2-0 for the second time in the past three years under Nichol is a big opportunity to take advantage of with the luxury of having the next two contests at LaMarca Stadium in Punxsy on the schedule.