CLARION — On a night that started out a very promising one for the Punxsy Chucks, the unblemished Clarion Bobcats reversed the fortunes and bulldozed their way to a 42-0 shutout Friday night in Clarion.
The Bobcats (8-0) scored on their first five possessions, with a Cameron Kirkland 77-yard punt return for a touchdown coming in the final minute of the second quarter to power their cause.
“The real turning point of the night was the punt return to end the first half,” pointed out Chucks head coach Alan Nichol. “You took a good team and gave them momentum heading into the half.”
Punxsy (4-4) drove 42 yards on 10 plays into the Clarion redzone on its opening drive. On fourth-and-four on the 17-yard line, quarterback Garrett Zimmerman’s pass to Clayton Dale fell incomplete, and the Chucks would never return to the redzone in the final 41:52 of the contest.
The Bobcats came out the victors in every category on the night. Clarion racked up 393 yards, 198 yards coming on the three opening second-half drives, of total offense in 49 plays.
The home team held Punxsy to its season-low total of 97 total yards, including a meager 29 yards on 14 second half plays.
Fullback Jamie Bush accounted for 69 of the Chucks' 97 yards. He carried 14 times for 60 yards, while pulling in a pass covering another nine yards. Christian Falgout garnered 22 yards on eight totes.
Being pressured consistently, Zimmerman had a tough night passing the ball and dealing with the Clarion defensive speed. The signal-caller finished 5 of 13 passing for 36 yards and was sacked four times for -21 yards.
Dale pulled in three of the five completions for 25 yards as the top pass catcher.
As he did on offense, Bush led the Punxsy defensive effort. He finished with six solo and seven total tackles. Zimmerman added six stops. Four others — Falgout, Matt Burkett, Alex Bevak and Brandon Wingert — each added five stops.
The Chucks started out the evening with a promising, but ultimately unproductive, opening drive. On the second play, Zimmerman connected with Dale for seven yards before Bush powered for six yards on fourth-and-one.
Falgout and Bush ran for back-to-back first downs for 11 and 10 yards, and it seemed as if Punxsy had caught Clarion with the night’s first punch.
The Bobcat counter-punch came after a Bush four-yard run on the next play. Clarion stopped Falgout for a three-yard loss before sacking Zimmerman for a five-yard loss. The defense committed a pass interference penalty on fourth-and-14. On fourth-and-four, Zimmerman could not connect with Dale, and the Bobcats took over after a Chucks drive lasting 6:08 stalled on the home 17-yard line.
Clarion went to work on its first of two 13-play scoring drives of the half. Leading rusher Damien Slike produced two 11-yard running bursts to take the ball into Punxsy territory. Six plays later, quarterback John Katis went to the air for the night’s first points by finding Cody Hearst from 23 yards on the last play of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Punxsy tried to answer the Clarion score. Taking over on their own 29-yard line, the Chucks reached midfield on a Bush three-yard plunge. The fullback added a 10-yarder and another three-yard carry to place the ball on the home 37-yard line.
For the second drive in a row, the Clarion defense started to tighten when it took down Falgout for a loss of a yard. Zimmerman could not complete either third or fourth down passes to turn the ball over after eight plays, 33 yards and 3:39 having run off the clock.
Averaging 44 points per game coming into the night, the potent Clarion offense went back to work. The Bobcats put together their second 13-play drive with no negative yard plays. Katis completed passes to Kirkland for 11 yards and Hearst for nine yards as the largest gainers. T.J. Armstrong completed the 62-yard scoring possession with a seven-yard touchdown burst. Kicker Antonio Troese tacked on the extra point for a 14-0 Clarion lead at 3:29 left in the second.
Zimmerman started Punxsy’s third drive as promisingly as the first two started. The QB completed back-to-back passes to Dale for seven and 11 yards to the Punxsy 47-yard line. The Clarion defense came on again with two-straight four-yard sacks of Zimmerman.
After a third-and-18 Zimmerman incompletion, the Chucks were forced to punt. From the Punxsy 49-yard line, Falgout punted the ball to the Clarion 23-yard line. Kirkland fielded the punt, made a few moves and took off down the sidelines with a convoy of Clarion blockers for the 77-yard punt return touchdown to increase the margin to 21-0 with 1:06 left in the first half.
“The punt return set them up for the second half,” added Nichol. “It gave a good defense to begin with the ability to take chances, sending all kinds of people at us, as well as play calling on offense.”
Following its halftime Homecoming festivities, Clarion struck quickly to begin the second 24 minutes of play. Kirkland ran for six yards on the first play before two plays later busting through the Punxsy defense for 36 more yards to the visitors’ nine-yard line. He ran the ball in for the nine-yard touchdown on the next play.
The Clarion defense showed to be one of the finest in the area over the second half. The unit allowed Punxsy to gain just 29 yards on 14 offensive plays, including its fourth sack of Zimmerman.
The Bobcats produced 198 yards on 14 plays offensively on their first three second-half possessions. Clarion scored on a Slike three-yard pass from Katis to complete a 69-yard, six-play second drive. Armstrong raced 46 yards for the game’s final score with 10:31 remaining as part of a 65-yard on four-play short drive for the final 42-0 tally.
Kirkland led Clarion with 186 all-purpose yards — 64 yards rushing, 45 yards receiving and 77 yards on the punt return. Armstrong added 97 yards on 12 carries and posted a game-best 10 tackles on defense.
Punxsy will return home for Senior Night next Friday, Oct. 26, for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Moniteau Warriors.