DUBOIS — A year after surprising District IX with a Class AAA Championship Game win over Clearfield last season, the Chucks have an opportunity at defending their title for the first time ever at 7 p.m. at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois.
The Chucks are in search of their third district title, as after winning their first crown in 1991 — a Quad-A championship over DuBois — Punxsy didn't return to the title game in 1992. Instead, DuBois beat Clearfield.
Tonight, the 10-0 Chucks face the 10-0 Bisons in a rematch of last year's title tilt, with one team continuing its undefeated season against the District VI Champions and the losing squad suffering its first and only defeat of the year.
As big of a game as tonight's matchup will be, Punxsy senior and co-captain Devon Luzell said that the Chucks need to treat tonight just like they did the first 10 contests this season.
"It just feels like another regular season game to us right now. It's the second year in a row going 11 games, so it's something we expect to do now," Luzell said. "It means the District IX Championship and an 11-0 season, but we're just going to go out and play it like a regular game."
When looking back at the tape of last year's game, the Chucks got an idea of what Punxsy second-year head coach Alan Nichol has stressed since he has arrived: Taking things one play at a time and competing for a full 48 minutes. A jarring hit at the goal line by 2010 graduate Braedon Pennington led to a Clearfield incompletion on fourth down late in the game, allowing the Punxsy to hold on for the 34-28 victory.
"I think that's (playing 48 minutes is) going to be one of the keys. They have an explosive team," Nichol said. "Good things are going to happen in the game, and bad things are going to happen. You have to react to that."
Expectations are that tonight's game won't be as high-scoring as last year. The Chucks boast the third-best scoring defense in the state, allowing 3.9 points per game. The Bisons' defense is second-best in the district to the Chucks, giving up just 10.2 points a game.
Punxsy gave up more than seven points just one time this season, while the Bisons surrendered more than 14 points just once.
Team play has enabled the Chucks to swarm to the ball all season on defense. In addition, Punxsy managed 17 sacks and 17 interceptions.
"I think we played as a team this year instead of just individuals," Luzell said. "We came together, we did our own jobs, and that helped everyone out."
Also strengthening Punxsy's defensive approach is that most of the defense has returned from last season, including senior and co-captain Ian Weaver, who leads the Chucks with 82 tackles. Last year, Weaver had 88 tackles, second-best on the team.
"We have a lot of guys returning, and that helped," Weaver said. "Also, all summer, we were up here watching film and keying in on what people do. We know what they have and what their strengths are, and we just shut them down."
Clearfield has done a great job spreading out its offensive attack, led by junior quarterback Curtis Frye, who has thrown for 1,417 yards and rushed for 245, scoring 20 total touchdowns, including 12 passing. Five Clearfield players have at least 12 catches, led by senior Derek Danver, who has 29 receptions for 428 yards and six touchdowns.
Led by junior quarterback Logan Weaver, Punxsy's passing attack is similar. Logan Weaver has thrown for 1,068 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has completed at least 16 passes to three players, including senior Zak Dickey, who has 27 catches for 362 yards and eight scores.
"You can't hone in on any one receiver because he spreads the ball around very similar to our passing game," Nichol said about Frye. "We're going to have to cover the field and know our assignments."
Clearfield's defense will be bringing constant pressure to Logan Weaver, who won't be able to hold onto the ball for too long when he drops back to pass.
"They like to bring (line)backers and play a lot of man, so I have to get my check downs and get rid of it early," Logan Weaver said. "If they try to sit back in a zone, (I have to) make my reads and hit my wide receivers and go from there."
Helping Punxsy succeed against Clearfield's defense will be a lack of predictability in play calling.
"We have to dictate when we want to run and when we want to throw rather than having the defense know when we're going to do that," Nichol said. "We need to make sure they don't focus in on one part of our game. Any time you play a good defense, that's what we have to do. "
As far as both teams' rushing attacks, Clearfield is once again led by Derek Morgan, who is now a senior. Morgan is 52 yards away from a 1,000-yard season, and he also has 13 touchdowns. Beau Swales has also gained 585 yards rushing to go along with 11 touchdowns.
"Every play he touches the ball, with his speed and his ability, he's a big play threat," Nichol said about Morgan.
Punxsy's rushing attack has varied all year, with Ben Blazavich splitting carries with Jason Fallara, Glenn Perry, and at times, Duell Thompson and Corban Cressley.
Fallara leads the team with 564 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, but he hasn't played since re- injuring his leg Oct. 22.
When asked of Fallara's health for tonight, Nichol said, "Everyone seems to be in the fold and ready to go."
Even without Fallara, the Chucks have rushed for 1,116 yards on 233 carries — 5.0 yards per carry.
The Chucks' arrival in the district championship game last year was a bit of a surprise — it was their first time there since 2002. Punxsy won't be sneaking up on the Bisons this year, considering last year's result and Punxsy's 10-0 record.
Still, the Chucks are much more confident entering tonight's game after last year's victory over Clearfield.
"Clearfield's been in the title game for quite a while, except for one year," Nichol said. "They're a championship program, and we were able to compete with them and beat them last year."
While the Chucks may have much more confidence, the Bisons are expected to be hungrier than ever. They've shown it by blitzing through their schedule, with only one of their wins being decided by single digits.
"If anything, I feel like they're going to come back wanting revenge," Luzell said. "We have to be more mentally prepared than they are and know what's coming at us and be able to take it head on."