Chucks one win away from district crown

CLARION — After an emotional 4-3 victory in overtime Monday night in which the Punxsy boys' soccer team didn't play its best ball, the Chucks will face Bradford at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium with the 2010 District IX Class AA Championship on the line.

Punxsy (15-3-1) hopes to add yet another first to a record-breaking season — a district banner.

It'll first have to get past the Owls, a squad that it hasn't played since Oct. 3, 2007, when Bradford earned a 4-3 win in double overtime in Punxsutawney.

Bradford enters tonight's game with a 13-5 record, having earned the No. 1 seed, while the Chucks and St. Marys Dutch battled Monday for a spot in the title game.

Though the Chucks are the lower seed, Punxsy head coach Phil Shenkle doesn't see his team as tonight's underdog, nor does he feel his squad should be anointed "favorite" status.

"I think us, Bradford and St. Marys are very evenly matched teams," Shenkle said. "Whoever goes out there and wants the game more, they'll win the game."

It's hard to compare the two teams, considering they don't have many common opponents.

DuBois did beat Bradford twice this season, while the Chucks split with the Beavers. Punxsy beat DuBois for the first time ever, 1-0, during an exciting Oct. 19 game at home.

Punxsy may have blown a 3-1 lead with 11 minutes left before earning Monday's overtime victory following a Kody Young goal, but Shenkle feels as if the way the game completed is a positive.

Instead of winning 3-1 and feeling they played their best game of the season, the Chucks have an opportunity to look back at the mistakes that led to overtime.

"By almost losing, it allowed us to spend some time on the things we did wrong in the game," Shenkle said. "I'll take the dramatic win. The guys were very focused (at practice Tuesday)."

Upon watching tape of Monday's game, Shenkle felt Punxsy's late-game struggles came down to communication.

"We really rely on a concert of movement between our fullbacks and mids (midfielders). Our communication wasn't good," Shenkle said. "The midfielders were kind of left on an island. The next thing you know, St. Marys (tied the game)."

The fact that Punxsy blew the lead before winning may actually serve as a wake-up call, if anything.

"They just have to be sharp for 80 minutes," Shenkle said. "It has to be that unified team effort where all 11 are really on the same page only after a singular goal," which is winning.

Not only was Monday's game a wake-up call, but it means that the Chucks may have saved their best game of the season for the district championship.

Three of Punxsy's best overall performances came during a three-game span that took place Oct. 12 (3-0 win over Elk County Catholic), Oct. 14 (3-1 victory over Karns City) and Oct. 19 (1-0 triumph over DuBois).

Now, riding a nine-game winning streak, the Chucks hope tonight's play is their best of the year.

"I'm kind of glad they didn't put together the perfect game Monday. Often times, you have that letdown afterward," Shenkle said. "There were a lot of positions and spots that we could get a lot better at."