PUNXSUTAWNEY — After months of anticipation and weeks of preparation, it was finally time for some Friday night lights in Jefferson County. To make it more special for the fans of the Punxsutawney Chucks and Brookville Raiders, the much-anticipated Route 36 battle returned Friday night at Brookville High School.
Punxsy came into the game Friday night as the favorite and reigning winner of the classic battle. After losing three of the last four match
ups with the Chucks, the Raiders came in hungry to get back on top of the rivalry they've controlled in recent memory.
Two communities separated by 17 miles, two retiring mayors, one prestigious trophy: It's safe to say that the fans were in for quite a treat.
While the vertical game was unable to get going for Brookville, the Radiers changed their philosophy. When all else fails, give it to Zach Vroman.
Vroman — a returning 1,000-yard back — led the Raiders to a 25-22
victory and returned the trophy to Brookville High School.
"Coming over to this place, playing this team, to hang in it says a lot," Punxsy head coach Alan Nichol said. "We gave it all we had. I saw a lot of good things."
Vroman torching the Chucks isn't anything they aren't
used to. Last season, the then-junior put up 200 rushing yards against the Chucks. With a line like that, what could Vroman do for an encore performance? Just a cool, 300 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns.
While Vroman touted the rock all day, it was three long runs that did the Chucks in. Vroman broke a 53-yard rush, 52-yard rush and a 76-yard rush all for touchdowns.
In the first quarter, after a couple of exchanges of possession, the Raiders were faced with a four-and-four. Brookville punter Jacob Kessecker handled the snap, and advanced the ball for a first down. From there, Vroman took the handoff for a 53-yard score and a 6-0 lead.
"When you come out and a lot of guys are seeing their first varsity action, it can take a little bit of time to get accustomed to the action," Nichol said.
Wasting no time in returning the favor, Punxsy quarterback Matt Burkett orchestrated a six-play scoring drive, capped off with a nine-yard touchdown strike to Clayton Dale to give the Chucks a 7-6 lead.
Brookville then answered with a three-play drive, with Vroman's 52-yard touchdown rush.
"Defensively we didn't play well enough in the first half," Nichol said. "We were unable to overcome that."
Keeping up the scoring flurry was Punxsy running back Christian Falgout.
After a 24-yard connection from Burkett to Dale, Falgout scored from three yards out.
In what had the makings of a running back clash, Vroman continued his first-half dominance late in the second quarter, with a Chris Johnson-like 76-yard rush to push the Brookville lead to 18-14 with 3:44 left in the half.
After forcing the Raiders to punt, Burkett and the Chucks got the ball back with 1:03 left in the half.
After hitting Dale and Parker Weaver on the drive, the Chucks found themselves inside the 10-yard line looking to score. With four seconds left in the half, Burkett dropped back and attempted to throw into triple-coverage, resulting in an interception to end the half.
"He saw the guy open in the middle, I'll have to look at the film," Nichol said. "It is what it is. It happens."
Nichol gave his team a talk at halftime to try to settle down the nerves.
"We came in at halftime saying the score was 0-0," Nichol said. "We told the guys that we had to come out and win the second half, and I think we did win the second half."
Coming out of the locker room with an 18-14 lead, the Raiders took the field and drove 60 yards for the score. After relying on Vroman to take them down the field, quarterback Bobby McGranor got in on the rushing action and took a yard out.
Brookville seemingly had control of the game in the third quarter — especially after another interception by Burkett — but as the saying goes, anything can happen until the clock strikes zero.
Down by 11, the Chucks were forced to punt to the Raiders. After an awkward bounce hit off of the Raiders' Braiden Smith, the Chucks jumped on the muffed punt to regain control.
From there, Burkett found Weaver wide open on the far side of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. Dakota Thomas ran in the 2-point conversion to make it a three-point game.
With a brand new ballgame at hand, Vroman took off on another good run, until the ball popped out, allowing the Chucks to recover it at their own 29-yard line.
With the time ticking away, Thomas scrambled for a five-yard gain, before throwing an incomplete pass to Dale. Faced with third down, Nichol switched back to Burkett at quarterback. Burkett rolled out, keeping his eyes downfield.
Deciding to tuck the ball and run, Burkett found himself fumbling the ball, causing a massive pile for the pigskin. As the referees cleared
the pile, they signaled first down Brookville.
The Raiders ran three straight times to secure the first down and the win.
"It was a growing-up process during the game," Nichol said. "It was good to see that and to see us go through that. We always say we have to win the next play. I can't say enough about some of these young guys. We have a long way to go. A very long way to go."
With the win, Brookville head coach Chris Dworek earned victory No. 100 in his 18-year Brookville coaching career.
Burkett ended the evening 9-18 for 94 yards, two touchdowns and three turnovers.
"Both quarterbacks in their first experience did some good things," Nichol said.
Leading the Chucks on the offensive side were Dale with five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown and Falgout with 15 carries for 97 yards and a score.
"[Christian] Falgout played a whale of a game," Nichol said. "He was running the ball really well in the first half before cramping up."
Nichol said while the team is disappointed with the loss, he couldn't be happier with how hard his team played.
"All in all, we have something to build on," Nichol said. "I can't say enough about how hard these guys worked out there."
The Chucks will have its first home game of the season next week, as they host Union High School.