Strong finish takes Panthers past Chucks football

LOYSBURG – With the changing of quarters, so went the changing of the Punxsy Chucks' football fortunes on Friday night. Leading 21-14 after the first 36 minutes of action, Punxsy managed only 37 fourth-quarter yards and committed two turnovers, on which Northern Bedford capitalized for the game-winning points and a 27-21 home victory.

Coming out of the half, the Chucks (5-5) dominated the third quarter. Punxsy punch in the opening drive on a Jamie Bush 15-yard rush up the middle and pulled in front via a 24-yard touchdown catch from Garrett Zimmerman to Alex Bevak for the 21-14 lead. The visiting defense held Northern Bedford to 39 yards on five plays as part of the surge to the lead.

The teams changed ends of the field and the winds of change took hold. Amidst a stiff wind all night, the Panthers (9-1) were able to key on the Chucks' running game, pick off two passes and pull out the comeback victory.

“Northern Bedford is a championship caliber football team, and they proved it tonight,” commented Chucks head coach Alan Nichol. “They kept coming hard with more and more guys. The strong wind in the fourth (quarter) made it hard when we tried to pass the ball, as it was a real factor all through- out the game.”

The defeat does not necessarily mean the end of the 2012 Punxsy football season. The team received some good news, as top-rated Clearfield stomped Bradford, 49-0, in the District IX championship game. The result is a fairly likely result of the Chucks making the District V-VI-VIII-IX regional playoffs set for next Friday. The top four of the rated teams will be decided over the weekend and should be known by Monday.

In what was expected to be a more pass-oriented contest, the wind turned it into a ground game battle.

Despite being put in tough field position situations most of the night, the Punxsy defense had a solid night, allowing only 245 yards to a Northern Bedford offense averaging over 315 yards per contest.

“We’ve been making strides on defense all year. Zak Bevak and Jamie Bush both had good nights,” pointed out Nichol of the performance. “We were concerned with their ability to pass, but they were able to run the ball better than we thought they could tonight.”

Northern Bedford accounted for 194 of its 245 yards on the ground, with running back Caleb Ebersole running in both fourth- quarter scores.

Fullback Bush surpassed the 100-yard mark again to pace the Punxsy offensive attack. The senior carried 27 times for 136 yards with a 15-yard scoring run. He also caught two balls for 12 yards with a nine-yard touchdown grab for 148 total yards.

Tight end Alex Bevak hauled in four passes for 55 yards with 24 of them coming on a touchdown pass. Zimmerman completed eight of 13 attempts for 79 yards with two scores but two interceptions, both in the second half.

Clayton Dale added two receptions for 12 yards, and Christian Falgout rushed for 14 yards on 10 totes.

Northern Bedford started the night with success on offense. Starting from their 37-yard line, the Panthers drove to the Punxsy five-yard line on nine plays. The home team had to settle for a 23-yard field goal attempt which drifted left to miss.

After starting with a 15- yard Bush run on the first play, the Punxsy offense stalled three plays later.

With Falgout punting, the Panthers special teams made their first big play of the opening half. Northern Bedford blocked the Falgout punt, and Conner Kagarise returned it 35 yards for the game’s opening touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 4:30 left in the first frame.

Punxsy answered the score with its own. After Falgout returned the kickoff to the Chucks' 46-yard line, Bush took charge of the visitor possession. The fullback ran for 19 and 12 yards on the first two rushes. Four plays later, Zimmerman found Bush in the flat for a nine-yard score to tie the contest, 7-7, with 1:09 remaining of the first quarter.

Following a Panther punt, Zimmerman dropped back and fumbled in the pocket, where Northern Bedford’s Wes Foor recovered at the Chucks’ 39-yard line.

Helped by an offensive holding call, the Punxsy defense held on fourth-and-14 when Bush tackled quarterback Blake Over three yards short of the first down marker.

Punxsy’s offense could not record a first down in three plays.

Following a short punt, the Panthers took over on the Chucks' 39-yard line. Six plays later at the Punxsy nine-yard line, Northern Bedford's special teams showed their might again.

On fourth down, the Panthers lined up for a 26-yard field goal but pulled off a masterful fake.

Kyler Diehl came out of the fake kick with the ball and hit Drew Gartland in the end zone to put the Panthers ahead, 14-7, with 5:02 in the half.

“The big plays of the blocked punt and fake field goal really hurt,” admitted Nichol. “They used experience to their advantage in executing those plays.”

Falgout started the second-half momentum for Punxsy with a 47-yard kickoff return to the Northern Bedford 41-yard line.

Bush again spearheaded the Chucks' drive. He touched the ball on six of eight plays, accounting for all but nine of the yards. Bush finished the scoring possession with a burst up the middle of 15 yards to put the scoreboard to 14-14 with only 4:14 in the second half.

Kicker Trevor Peace pinned the Panthers deep in their end at the 15-yard line. The Chucks' defense forced a Panthers punt five plays later.

The Chucks capped their strong third by taking their first lead of the contest.

With no play totaling more than nine yards of the first nine minutes of the quarter, Zimmerman changed that when he dropped back to find Alex Bevak in the center of the field for a 24-yard touchdown pass.

Peace added the point after for a 21-14 lead and 20 seconds in the third quarter.

After one offensive play, Northern Bedford switched sides of the field and swung the momentum its way. The home team completed a 58-yard, nine-play drive when Ebersole rambled in from six yards out to tie the game, 21-21, with 9:23 remaining.

Back-to-back punts ensued. On the third play of the following Punxsy possession, Northern Bedford’s Diehl picked off Zimmerman at the visiting 28-yard line.

Ebersole recorded his second touchdown run in five minutes, this time on 18 yards over two plays for a lead the Panthers would not give up of 27-21 with 4:07 left in the contest.

Ebersole completed his all-around fourth quarter by picking off the second Punxsy pass with just over a minute left to seal the 27-21 victory.

The Northern Bedford backfield of Kagarise and Ebersole combined for 168 yards rushing on 24 attempts, with 87 and 81 individually. Over finished the game with 42 yards passing.

Late in the fourth quarter of the game, there was a delay of approximately 20 minutes for an injured Punxsy player.

The Spirit has chosen not to identify the player to protect his privacy.