PUNXSUTAWNEY — Following a tough contest on a rainy night last week, the Punxsy Chucks return to the gridiron looking to make some positive strides as a team to celebrate the school’s Homecoming this evening.
Punxsy has suffered some misfortune in the last pair of contests, as it fell to a veteran Union High team on the road, 21-6, before seeing the buzz- saw big-play offense of DuBois cut into the home team, 50-6 last Friday in Punxsutawney.
The Chucks do have the solace of both defeats having come at the hands of two undefeated foes.
“Homecoming is a good week to make a lot of strides as a team,” explained Chucks’ head coach Alan Nichol. “The guys practiced well this week; they have a team goal and are looking to improve week-by-week.”
Allegheny-Clarion Valley comes to town to be the Homecoming foe tonight at 7 p.m. in Jack LaMarca Stadium.
The Falcons (1-2) come off probably their biggest one-sided victory in over a decade. A-C Valley swarmed Clarion-Limestone, 46-0, in its home opener to improve to 1-2 on the year. The Falcons’ program has not posted a winning mark since going 7-4 in the 1999 season. They posted their most wins last year (2-7) since the 2004 campaign.
The Chucks (1-2) will be wise to put the tough seasons the Falcons have suffered in the last decade out of their memory. A-C Valley is under new first year head coach Brad Dittman and appears to be a much more formidable squad that will play in Punxsy.
The Falcons opened the year with a 16-14 down-to-the-wire defeat at Union and won the second half in a 26-13 loss to Clay-Battelle (WV) in week two.
“We are looking to make some positives to ensure our success and focus our attention to detail,” said Nichol on the team’s preparations. “Losing is never something you get used to. A win Friday is a prime goal of ours.”
With the newfound improvement, Punxsy cannot take A-C Valley lightly, even with four-straight convincing victories in the past four seasons. The Chucks have outscored the Falcons by the wide margin of 176-14 over the four meetings, including a 42-6 win in Foxburg a year ago.
The Chucks defense — led by strong safety Garrett Zimmerman, cornerback Christian Falgout and linebacker Jamie Bush among others — will have to stymie a very balanced Falcons attack with a good passing game.
“The quarterback can throw the ball very well, as they have a nice balance,” points out the Punxsy coach. “It is hard to key on one receiver in their offense. They like to keep the defense guessing.”
The Falcons’ offensive trigger man Kevin Kaufman accounted for 240 yards of total offense, 186 passing and 54 rushing, last week. The 6-0, 178-pound quarterback has thrown for 466 yards through the air for a 155.3-yard per game average with five touchdowns. He also is the Falcons leading rusher with 128 yards on 27 attempts.
Kaufman has connected with seven receivers at least twice with senior Justin Rothen pulling in eight balls for 143 yards and two scores. Running back Mike Suto is also a dual threat with seven catches for 63 yards while rushing for 53 yards on 14 carries. Ryan Bartley is the third top pass catcher with five receptions for 77 yards.
Junior Dallas Wingard is the main backfield rusher with 30 carries for 93 yards.
A-C Valley led only 13-0 at the half before it scored 20 and 13 points in the second half. The offense saw Kaufman hit wide out Greg Elliott for a 60-yard touchdown as part of the scoring.
“We need to stop the big play (as a defense),” said Nichol. “That is exactly what DuBois was able to do against us.”
With a lot of big hits in three games to his credit, Zimmerman has accounted for a team-best 25 tackles, 18 solo, and recorded a sack against DuBois. Falgout and Bush have identical 13 solo and 19 total tackles from their positions.
Defensive end Brandon Wingert and sophomore tackle Luke Shiock, who has seen his first varsity action, pace the defensive front with 14 and 11 stops apiece. Wingert has added a fumble recovery and a sack to his credit. Cornerback Clay Dale has also received high mention from coach Nichol for his defensive play where he has posted 10 total tackles.
The Punxsy offense will be seeking to make its needed strides and find the endzone more than one time in tonight’s game. The unit has only found paydirt one time in each of the last two games and just three times in 10 quarters.
“We need to be aggressive against this defense,” admits Nichol. “A-C Valley tackles well but it's just a matter of us playing more consistently. We have to block to the whistle, be balanced and mix it up.”
The Falcons will be a stiff test for the Chucks attack. A-C Valley has not allowed a point in the last six quarters and only 12 points in last two and a half games.
Punxsy quarterback Zimmerman will look to improve upon his passing numbers this evening.
His 103 yards recorded at Union is the only time he has hit the century mark. The senior has totaled 227 yards on 17 of 40 attempts for only a 42.5 completion percentage.
“Our goal each week is to get 100 yards passing, and it’s a goal we have to reach,” Nichol said. “This will be a good test for us offensively.”
Dale has been Zimmerman’s top passing target with five catches for 63 yards. Falgout, Bush, Matt Burkett and Alex Bevak have all four hauled in three passes apiece.
Bush continues to run hard from his full back spot where he has a team-high 206 yards on only 37 carries covering 5.6 yards per attempt.
Backfield mate Falgout has been handed the pigskin 56 times for 189 yards with Zimmerman adding 63 yards in 22 tries.
Linebackers Suto and Jimmy Holton pace the Falcons’ 3-5 defense with 22 tackles apiece. Bartley and Hunter Defibaugh combine to make the top four defenders with 21 and 20 stops.
Punxsy will look to take its solid week of practice on the hill to Homecoming success tonight.
“With a week of back to basics, we are going to hit the restart button,” said Nichol. “We are looking for sparks any way we can to reach our prime goal of a win.”
The Chucks will not care whether the spark comes from the offensive or defensive side of the ball tonight but that the spark turns into a fire to celebrate another successful Homecoming for the crowd at LaMarca Stadium.