PUNXSUTAWNEY — Despite coming off a big loss at the hands of the DuBois Beavers, the Chucks were considered prohibited favorites heading into their game last week against the A-C Valley Falcons.
Whether it was the fans or the media experts, everyone thought the game against A-C Valley was supposed to be a breeze.
As the old adage goes, "That's the reason you play the game."
The Chucks held off a fiesty Falcons team for a three-point victory.
Despite what other people thought, head coach Alan Nichol said it went the way he and his team expected.
"I don't know what the expectations were, but I do know that when we go on the football field, the opponents are practicing and getting better, so we need to practice and get better. It's what we expected going on the road," Nichol said. "We expect good, hard competition. Hopefully, our players weren't thinking that was going to be a breeze, because each week you go out, you prepare to play and prepare to play hard against that team."
Due to injuries suffered in the previous week's game at DuBois, the Chucks weren't able to field as many veterans on the field as they would've liked.
Nichol said that the young players made an impression, and he was proud that his team never gave up.
"It was great. We had a lot of young players out there. We had several of our older guys not practicing or playing last week, so a lot of younger guys had a chance to play," Nichol said. "It was a good experience to get out on the road and fight through a lot adversity to come out of there with a win in an exciting game. There were so many momentum-changing plays, so that was fantastic."
The team was able to control the pace of the game during different times of the night.
"We took the momentum last week back. Right before half, we ran a no-huddle offense that we had worked on a lot during the summer, and it worked to perfection. It was a thing of beauty," Nichol said. "And then later on in the game, Lance Pennington came in and hit that beauty of a punt that really changed momentum in the last six minutes in the game.
"The younger guys got inspired there themselves and really put the brakes on their running game in those final minutes. In the second half, we marched right down the field behind some solid blocking from the offensive line. Andy Fedigan had some lead blocks for us. We went right down and scored," Nichol said.
Momentum was big in the close victory, and it will be big heading into the second half of the season.
Yes, the second half will officially be upon us next week.
Tonight's game against St. Marys marks the fifth game of the season already for the Chucks.
Oh, how time flies by.
Usually at this point in the season, a team knows who it is.
For instance, in the NFL, since 1990, only three percent of teams who started 0-3 have made the playoffs.
By Week 4 (unless you're the 2012 Arizona Cardinals), you have a pretty good idea of what kind of team you are.
Can the Chucks say the same thing?
Do we know what kind of team this is?
If you look at it, you see a team that got exposed in Week 1 to the tune of 306 yards by Zach Vroman in the three-point loss to Brookville.
Then, the next week against Union, Punxsy came out and controlled the game for a big victory against a lesser opponent.
In Week 3, Punxsy traveled to DuBois and was mercy-ruled at the half.
And finally, in Week 4, the Chucks won by just three-points over another inferior opponent.
At 2-2, is it possible to say that we don't know who this Chucks team is yet?
According to Nichol, he feels they are a young team that is learning each week.
"We're looking at it from the standpoint that when you have an inexperienced team, there are going to be peaks and valleys," Nichol explained. "Certainly, the opponent has something to do with that. I'm very happy with the team that we are becoming."
Nichol said that the keys moving forward are to make the in-game adjustments.
"It's making sure you're consistent and reacting to what the other team's adjustments are. That may cause a few glitches," Nichol said. "We don't have any seniors starting on the offensive or defensive lines. As you do well, they're going to change their approach, and it'll take us so many plays to adjust. Sometimes, if we lag during the games, it's not because of effort, but it's because of inexperience."
For instance, last week against A-C Valley, Nichol once again adjusted to the defense that the Falcons threw at the Chucks by subbing in Dakota Thomas during the game.
Most of the year, Thomas has been used in a package which highlights his scrambling abilities on the field.
But on Friday, it was Thomas' 69 yards through the air, including one throwing and one rushing touchdown, that made him the Kengersky Player of the Game.
With that adjustment, is it fair to say that the fans may see more of Thomas in the upcoming games, or will it continue to be a split between Thomas and Matt Burkett?
"The thing is, the style of play of the defense dictates some of the things that we are doing. As I've said all along, we basically have two quarterbacks who are starting in Thomas and Matt Burkett. I think they've been very effective," Nichol said. "We come in with a change of pace and the other team has to be prepared for both styles of play. Thomas had a lot of good moments and had a sparkling game. He did the kinds of things we are looking for him to do. But Burkett had a good game too."
Nichol especially spoke highly of the connection that Burkett and Clayton Dale have on the field.
"Burkett and Dale, if you take a look at the receptions they've had, they have a lot of first downs on their receptions. We're not limiting anybody," Nichol said. "It's like any other player on the team. Whenever their particular skill set will help us, that's where we're going to go. It's great to see that from Thomas, though. He's been working really hard and is capable of making a lot of plays for us."
The big matchup to watch this Friday is the two running backs in the game — Christian Falgout for Punxsy and Alex Feldbauer for St. Marys.
Last week, Falgout churned out 127 yards for the Chucks despite some bumps and bruises along the way.
Nichol said that Falgout, among others, is healing up and will be available for tonight's game.
During the game against the Falcons, Falgout was hit hard on a few plays along the sidelines that were borderline late-hits.
With a sore body and a heavy workload so far this season will Nichol give Falgout a break?
"We have to go out there and play the game between the lines. The officials are in charge of making those decisions. We're not going to back off of giving [Christian] Falgout the ball," Nichol said. "With that said, we always develop all parts of our game. Perry Arrington had some nice carries. We continue to work on being balanced."
As for St. Marys, Feldbauer returns as a 1,700-yard runner from last season.
So far on this year, Feldbauer has 766 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Nichol said he knows stopping him is the key to slowing down the St. Marys attack.
"It's a Wing-T set, with a lot of misdirection and a lot of trapping," Nichol said. "That presents quite a challenge in and of itself. I think this week will be a good test for us."
With facing a runner like this, is it a good idea to go back and watch the game film from the Brookville game when Vroman ran up and down the field on the Chucks?
"The comparison is they both have great backs, but they have different styles in which they run it," Nichol said. "Coach Joe Schlimm has added a lot of formations to his offense. It makes it a little harder to key on one guy."
Nichol said for the Chucks to defeat the Flying Dutch for the second time in two years, they need to know their assignments and make tackles.
"The big thing that we've talked about with the Wing-T is to make sure you read your keys and get to where the ball is at," Nichol said. "Also, you have to get to Feldbauer, and you have to tackle him. It's a real challenge. All in all, I think we have been taking those steps to improve every week and making the adjustments that we need to make."
Speaking of tackling, Nichol said in his postgame interview last week that his team needs to get back to the basics and improve in that area.
With six seconds left in the first half of last week's game, the Falcons were able to score on a 33-yard screen as the clock struck zero, thanks to some poor tackling by Punxsy.
Since day one, Nichol has stressed the importance of blocking and tackling for his team to succeed.
"All I can say is that from day one, the No. 1 thing — a lot of people will talk formations and X's and O's — for us, is that the teams that tackle the best and the teams that block the best are going to win," Nichol explained. "You have to do that in practice. You have to work on that in practice and we do. So we're hoping to improve all of those aspects of our game."