PUNXSUTAWNEY — After posting its third-straight victory last Friday, the Punxsy Chucks squad will look to pass another road test against the traditionally tough Karns City Gremlins.
“Karns City is a fantastic program,” points out Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol. “They have won a good amount of the District IX AA championships and are a solid program.”
The two Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Large School Division co-leaders have produced very similar 2012 results to this point of the season. Both squads have 2-0 marks in the KSAC Large School Division and have 4-2 overall records.
The clubs have also both won three of their past four contests, with the Chucks winners of their last three and the Gremlins victors the past two Friday nights.
The two foes for tonight come off easy wins from a week ago. Punxsy raced out to a 35-0 lead before handing winless Clarion-Limestone a 41-7 defeat. Karns City had its own decisive road win, 34-7, at Keystone.
Both the Chucks and Gremlins have played two common opponents this fall with the same results. Punxsy lost at Union, 21-6, while Karns City dropped a 28-18 home decision. The Chucks edged the St. Marys Dutch, 21-20, with the Gremlins winning, 38-25 - both games played on the road.
Tonight will be only the fifth overall meeting between the Chucks and Gremlins as the series started in 2008. In the past three affairs, the road team has been able to take home the win, including last year when Karns City edged Punxsy, 21-20 in Punxsutawney. The Chucks recorded a shutout, 31-0, the last time visiting the Gremlins home in the 2010 campaign. In the four meetings of the short series, Karns City has prevailed in three of the contests but the overall points scored, Punxsy leads by the narrow 64-62 margin.
This evening of the two evenly matched clubs will also be the first of two-straight weeks for Punxsy to play on a field turf playing surface.
In fact, the Gremlins just installed their second field turf carpet in the last month. Punxsy will also play next week at Clarion on Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium’s sprint turf surface.
“It makes for a faster track. It is a good surface for speed,” said Nichol. “It doesn’t take long to adjust. It is different, but there is no equipment difference to use.”
Karns City like the faster track as it has a defensive focus on speed. With a lineman over the nose of the football, the five-man defensive front likes to slant along with giving some wrinkles on the basic looking unit.
“They count on speed and quickness and not size. They have the quickness to get in the gaps,” explains the Punxsy coach. “They do play more man-to-man (coverages in the secondary) than most teams.”
The Gremlins will see a Chucks offense which has come alive the past three weeks. After only posting 38 points in the first three weeks, Punxsy has more than doubled its output to 86 points, 28.7 points per game, over the past three games, all wins.
The key to the offensive unit’s success has been restored balance. After amassing 286 aerial yards in the opening four weeks, quarterback Garrett Zimmerman has guided the passing emergence.
The senior has put together back-to-back outstanding throwing games with 195 yards at St. Marys and 171 yards at home against Clarion-Limestone in a total of six quarters.
In the two performances, Zimmerman has completed 21 of 35 attempts, 60.0 completion percentage, for 366 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Last week was another good performance by the passing game,” said Nichol. “The offensive line had to give enough time, wide receivers run good patterns and catch the ball, and of course, the quarterback getting them the ball.”
“We also had a lot of good downfield blocking. There were a lot of players finishing blocks, such as Alex Bevak and Dakotah Byers, who had big blocks and worked to get in position to make them.”
Bevak, Byers and Clayton Dale have proven to be a productive trio especially the last two weeks. Bevak caught five passes for 86 yards at St. Marys. Byers pulled in four balls for 55 yards and two scores at St. Marys and followed it with two grabs for 76 yards and another touchdown last week. Dale had three receptions for 38 yards before pulling in two passes for 49 yards, both scoring strikes, versus Clarion-Limestone.
The key and starting point of the Punxsy success on offense will be determined up front with the offensive line of Luke Shiock, Jordan London, Zach Minich, Derek Mahlburg and Brandon Snyder.
“With Karns City’s speed, they will be a real challenge for the offensive line to sustain drives,” added Nichol.
The Chucks returned to success running the ball last week with 264 yards on the ground behind the line. This production came after a disappointing 76-yard output at St. Marys.
Tailback Christian Falgout continues to be the leading ground gainer with 476 yards on 106 totes and five scores. Fullback Jamie Bush has covered 366 yards on 60 tries, 6.1-yard per carry with Caesar Maruca adding 107 yards on 23 rushes.
On the other side of the ball, Punxsy will see a Karns City offense that has some similar features it has seen already this season in a recent opponent, St. Marys.
“Karns City has a good ground game. They run Wing-T plays mixed with option runs,” commented Nichol. “They sometimes come out with motion in a one-back set and make it difficult to defend. Overall, they are well-balanced, use a lot of play action passes and run a lot of backs out there as they just plug people in.”
The Chucks’ defense has tightened the ranks the past three winning weeks. The unit has allowed only 33 points or 11 points per game. Punxsy allowed 56 yards on the ground to Clarion-Limestone but will see a much more talented attack tonight.
“With a quarterback who runs the option and throws well, it will fall on our (defensive) ends of (Daniel) McLain, (Brandon) Wingert, (Adam) Ferko, and (Will) Curtis having to do the job of getting to the quarterback,” said Nichol.
“The contain will have to come from the safeties, Zimmerman and Bevak, and we will have to track down the pitch,” added the Punxsy coach.
The responsibility of tracking the pitch will turn to the inside linebackers of Maruca and Bush.
“Maruca is really improving now versus St. Marys and Clarion-Limestone, especially taking on the run,” told Nichol.
Maruca is averaging 8.7 tackles per game the past three weeks. He had nine stops against A-C Valley before a career-best 11, six solo, at St. Marys. The senior followed up those two outputs with six tackles last week and has moved up the team leaders to third with 35 stops on the year.
His inside linebacker mate, Bush, has 30 tackles to his season credit despite missing one game.
Gremlins’ quarterback Tyler Kepple is a dual threat of run and pass for the Chucks to deal with tonight. He is a quality passer, runs off the edge and does a good job of handling the running backs on the option.
The leading tackler, Zimmerman, who has 47 stops, and Bevak at safety along with the other secondary members of Falgout, Dale, Matt Burkett and Parker Weaver will try to hold the Gremlin passer in check for the full 48 minutes.
As a team, the Chucks have been successful in one of two road contests on the year. It will take another solid full game to increase that success rate and pass the toughest road test of the 2012 season tonight.