PUNXSUTAWNEY — Can you believe that tonight marks the fourth football game of the season for Punxsutawney already?
The Chucks wasted no time kicking off their season with three enticing games.
If you ask head coach Alan Nichol, the game that his team plays each week is the most important game of the season.
It is, after all, the only game that they can focus on or control.
But the first three had a different feeling to them.
The annual Route 36 game kicked off the season, which featured the Chucks traveling to Brookville to take on their new school rival.
In Week 2, the Chucks hosted the Union Knights.
While Union and Punxsy aren't necessarily considered the greatest rivalry in Disctrict IX, it was the Chucks' home opener and featured a ceremony honoring members of the undefeated 1963 football team.
And then you have Week 3.
It's a game that no Punxsy fan wants to remember, as DuBois defeated Punxsy 49-7.
The two teams have a rivalry that goes back for years upon years.
So finally, the Chucks are able to take on an opponent without the sideshow act.
And that's not taking anything away from the A-C Valley Falcons at all, but it won't have the feeling of DuBois or Brookville, or the meaning of honoring the greatest team in school history.
Would it be better if say, the home opener was Week 1, the DuBois game was Week 5 and the Brookville game concluded the regular season?
"Whenever they come, they come. Friday nights are for the guys who have been giving their heart and soul all week. You can't get enough of them," Nichol said. "As much excitement around the game that we can have, the better it is for everyone."
That being said, is this game against A-C Valley without any of the extra attention something that Nichol and the Chucks are looking forward to?
"I can't say that it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'd rather have something going on up there at that stadium because of the students that we see during the school that wish us well during the week and it's a part of what they're doing," Nichol said. "I'd have to say, one of the reasons I'm in high school football is the enjoyment that other people get coming to the stadium and hopefully we are doing our part, but there's a lot of high school students that get excited about Friday nights up at the stadium for other reasons."
Nichol said that growing up, he learned that having the other events correlating with the games is something to embrace.
"I think there is pageantry that goes along with football. I've learned from my mother a long time ago that that goes along with it. She loved the game herself, and I think that was one of the parts that she enjoyed most about it," Nichol said. "That's part of what I like about it. It's part of being in high school football and why we think it's worth playing and playing well."
The Chucks have a good chance playing well at A-C Valley, as the atmosphere is much different than they experienced last week at DuBois.
At the Beavers' stadium, the fans were loud and into the game the entire game.
To be honest, it resembled a college football game more than a high school football game.
Did the Chucks feel that the atmosphere was too much to handle or even intimidating?
"I don't think intimidating is the right word. Obviously, when you're on the road, things have to be more focused," Nichol said. "We've got some inexperience in some places, and I think just the speed of the game was faster than what we see in practice all of the time. I think we were in the right place, but we were a step behind in a lot of places."
And Nichol is right.
Punxsy was in the right place on most of the plays and the players handled their assignments well.
It was the little things that gave the Beavers the advantage over the Chucks.
"I think it came down to little things making a big difference. A lot of times, we were able to cover them down field, but they were able to find their check down guy who outflanked us a little bit," Nichol said. "You have to gives the quarterbacks credit for DuBois. They were able to put the ball on the money. The little completions turned into a lot of yards. It was things like that. We took care of the big things, but the little things made it difficult for us."
During last week's preview, Nichol said that the old adage is that a team can learn a lot about itself after a loss, but he feels a team can learn a lot about itself after a big win, too.
After a big loss to DuBois, Nichol said the team did learn a lot, but they have to focus on the next game at hand.
"Individually, as we learn our jobs, it'll make a big positive difference for us," Nichol said. "In this business, win or lose, you have to learn to put your mind on the next week and improve. That's what we have done and will continue to do."
The one thing that Nichol has learned over the course of one win and two losses is that his offensive line is the strongest part of the Chucks' roster.
Last week, in a losing effort, they opened enough holes to allow Christian Falgout to tally 100 yards and Perry Arrington to put forth a
solid effort of his own.
"In three games, they've definitely done the job. I can't give them enough credit for the job that they have done up front. It was a good, physical team in DuBois. We held our own in the trenches," Nichol said.
"That's one part of the game we have been able to win. It's something to say about Perry Arrington too and the way he has developed as a fullback. He's small, but he's got a motor running on full blast. He gets on people and stays on them so that it's difficult for them to get to [Christian] Falgout. All in all, I think the line has done an outstanding job and is the strength of the team right now."
The offensive line will again look to dominate the line of scrimmage in tonight's contest against the Falcons.
The Falcons have been outscored this season 62 to 120 en route to an 0-3 record.
Despite its record, AC Valley is equipped with playmakers on the offensive side.
In a dual-back offense, Mike Suto has six touchdowns on the ground, while rushing for 256 yards.
His counterpart, Dallas Wingard, has 241 yards of his own on the ground with one score.
Quarterback Evan Redding has managed the offense, completing passes at a .605 rate.
Nichol said that the record doesn't tell the entire story with A-C Valley and that they will present a challenge for the Chucks tonight.
"They are a very competitive team. They throw the ball very well. Their quarterback is a sophomore, but he has a nice arm and makes good decisions," Nichol said. "They have some speed. The challenge that they're going to present is that they are well balanced.
"They'll throw when you think they're going to run and run when you think they're going to throw. The quarterback is very effective for them and involved. We're looking to improve our pass defense. We have to make sure all of the check downs are covered so they can't go to their second and third receivers very easily."
As has been the case all season, Nichol is insisting that his team remains focused on the task at hand.
In fact, he feels that tonight's game is the biggest game of his team's life and wants them to go out and enjoy it.
"We're going to go in the locker room before the game on Friday night. We're going to say that the game against A-C Valley is the biggest game of their life because it's the only one that they have this week. That's how you have to look at it," Nichol said. "You only get, if you're lucky, 12 Friday nights in one season to go play. It's always that game, and that's what makes football interesting. You have that one game that one week, and everything goes into it. Then you get rid of everything you have for the next week."