Making a Splash: Karns City Uses a Few Key Big Plays to Edge Punxsutawney

KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Big play Gremlins?

Usually known for grinding out wins with a running game and solid defense — even just a few short weeks ago — the Karns City football team broke out the splash plays against Punxsutawney on Friday night.

All were huge on the way to gutty 15-13 win.

Punxsutawney Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.


Eric Booher threw for 181 yards and a touchdown. Micah Rupp caught four passes for 103 yards — including a pivotal 23-yard reception on third-and-18 late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Gremlins to chew valuable time off the clock — and the defense forced four Punxsutawney turnovers.

“It’s completely different, I think way different than past Karns City teams,” said senior Nate Garing, who had a big interception deep in Gremlin territory with the game in the balance in the fourth quarter. “We were running the ball every play three weeks ago. Now we’re throwing the ball. It’s working.”

It had to work because Punxsutawney’s run defense was stout.

Karns City struggled to consistently move the ball on the ground throughout the game as the Chucks’ front controlled the line of scrimmage at times.

That made the passing game all the more important for the Gremlins.

“We had to because they were stopping our run,” said Karns City coach Joe Sherwin.

Still, Karns City was able to jump out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter.

Colson Ritzert booted a 23-yard field goal, and then after recovering a short kickoff, Karns City needed just four plays to go 47 yards, capped by a 13-yard run by Booher.

The Gremlins’ defense was able to bottle up Punxsutawney running back Zeke Bennett for the most part in the first half.

Bennett had 54 yards on 14 carries at the break.

But after Karns City took a 15-0 lead on a 10-yard pass from Booher to Rupp midway through the third quarter, Bennett and the Punxsy offense began to hit its stride.

Bennett scored on a 1-yard run to end a seven-play, 61-yard march to trim the lead to 15-7.

Bennett then sprinted 57 yards on the Chucks’ next possession down to the Karns City 2 to set up a TD run by Justin Miller.

Bennett, though, was tripped up awkwardly by Braden Slater on that long run and left the game with a left leg injury.

He was on crutches on the sideline with a large icepack strapped to his leg just below the knee.

“Even though they scored on that play, that was heart. All heart,” Garing said of Slater chasing down Bennett at the 2.

Not having Bennett, who finished with 169 yards on 23 attempts, affected the Chucks the rest of the way. Miller was cut down short on the 2-point conversion run to keep the score at 15-13.

“We kind of threw the dice there,” Sherwin said of the 2-point conversion stop. “We sent eight guys on that play. We sent the house and it worked for us. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. It worked out in that situation.”

Punxsutawney drove to the Karns City 21 in the waning moments of the game, but Garing intercepted Seth Moore to end that threat.

The Chucks have a good kicker in Peyton Hetrick, but Punxsy coach Alan Nichol said he wasn’t going to bank on settling for a field goal in that situation.

“We were trying to go win the game,” Nichol said. “What about the field goal? This is high school. Nothing is guaranteed, especially when you get more than 22, 25 yards. You watch guys in the NFL miss those. We were trying to get in the end zone and their kid made a play.”

Punxsutawney didn’t get the ball back again until there was less than a minute on the clock at its own 8.

Despite the loss, Nichol was pleased with how his team played against Karns City on the road.

It was an eventful journey.

The Chucks’ bus broke down on the way to the game, which started 10 minutes late.

“We played them even,” Nichol said. “We didn’t get the two points to even it up, but we came here, had some adversity getting here, and we played hard. We didn’t do enough on offense in the first half, but we played really great defense. They’re a good team and they made good plays. They threw the ball on the money and you have to tip your cap to them for that.”

Sherwin was happy with the win. He wasn’t happy, however, with some of the inconsistencies he saw.

Just a few weeks after the Gremlins were basically a one-dimensional running team because of injuries at the quarterback position, Karns City hasn’t run the ball as it would like the last two games.

“Some games we’ve kind of done well passing the ball, but not running the ball,” Sherwin said. “Some games we’ve run the ball well, but not passed the ball well. We need to get both of them going at the same time, and I think going down the stretch, that’s what we need to really focus on.”

Still, a win is a win and this victory has Karns City above water at 4-3.

“It’s great,” Garing said. “It’s a great feeling to gut this one out the way we did.”

Punxsutawney Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.

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