DIVERSE AND DANGEROUS: Central Clarion’s Offense Humming Heading into Clash With Punxsutawney on Friday
PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — While most football teams would fret about the prospect of replacing a wide receiver who caught 63 passes for 1,556 yards and 13 touchdowns, Central Clarion has not.
Ashton Rex had a historic season for the Wildcats a year ago. But Central Clarion’s offense is more diverse this season.
And, so far, certainly just as potent.
(Pictured above, Central Clarion receiver Brady Quinn is tackled against Port Allegany at Wiser Field/photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
“We knew coming in that, obviously, Ashton was such a big threat last year,” said Central Clarion coach Dave Eggleton. “Those other guys were kind of all young and growing into the role. This year, having guys like Dawson (Smail) and Brady (Quinn) and Mason (Burford) and Tommy (Smith), who has been out the last couple of weeks … we knew all these guys were ready to step up and be the guy this year. We knew we weren’t going to have a guy like Ashton this year, but we knew that we were going to be more dangerous, honestly.”
That has come to be true.
Quinn, Burford and Smail all have more than 153 yards receiving and multiple TD receptions this season.
Quinn leads the way at 178 yards on seven catches; Burford, just a sophomore, has a team-leading nine receptions for 158 yards and three touchdowns; and Smail has eight catches for 153 yards and also has three TDs.
Quarterback Jase Ferguson, a junior in his third year as a starter, has been able to spread the wealth this season.
“I give a lot of credit to Jase, first off, because he has trust in all of those guys. He’s distributed the ball to all of them,” Eggleton said. “He’s really finding the open receiver, and not a lot of guys can do that. Guys lock in on one guy and either throw it or not throw it. When you have a guy who can move from his first look, to his second look, to his third look, that’s just a phenomenal ability for a high school quarterback. It’s not very common.”
Ferguson has completed 68.9% of his passes (31-of-45) for 599 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s thrown just one interception.
He also leads the team in rushing at 255 yards on 27 attempts.
The offensive line, loaded with experience with all five starters and the tight end back from last season, has given Ferguson plenty of time to pick apart defenses.
“Our line has given Jase the time,” Eggleton said. “The last two weeks, he’s sat in a really clean pocket for a long time and has been able to get through his progressions. He really looks comfortable back there.”
But Central Clarion (3-0) will face perhaps its stiffest test yet when it takes to the road to battle Punxsutawney (2-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday.
The Chucks stood toe to toe and went punch for punch with Redbank Valley last week before falling 50-27.
Punxsutawney also has a talented line and a slew of weapons around sophomore quarterback Maddox Hetrick, who threw for 215 yards last week against the Bulldogs, most of those coming in the first half.
Hetrick is 36 of 50 for 547 yards and five touchdowns this season for the Chucks.
“Their quarterback is a good athlete and he has a couple of really good receivers,” Eggleton said. “They have a solid line. I feel like they’re big and physical, so it’s gonna be a tough matchup.”
Punxsutawney got a huge piece of its offense back last week when senior Noah Weaver returned from injury.
He hauled in nine passes for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the loss to Redbank Valley.
“It’s nice to have Noah Weaver back,” said Punxsutawney coach Alan Nichol. “It’s good to get him back in the flow of practice every day, and I think we’re gonna keep improving. Like every team, we’ve had a few guys out and there’s young guys like Beau Thomas playing his heart out all over the place.”
Thomas, another sophomore, leads the Chucks in receptions with 16 for 163 yards and two touchdown.
Zach Presloid has 12 catches for a team-leading 254 yards.
Punxsy has also found success on the ground behind senior Landon Martz, who has piled up 459 yards on just 51 carries already this year.
Nichol said despite the loss last week to Redbank, the offense performed well. That should bode well, he said, going forward through a tough slate of games.
“I think every time you compete with someone like Redbank Valley, who is coming after you all the time, I think that allows you to play faster whenever it’s time to go again,” h said. “We got a lot of tough games coming up.”
The Chucks will play St. Marys, also 3-0 heading into this week, after Central Clarion, before games at DuBois and home against Karns City.
“Coach Nichol, that guys has seemingly been around forever and I’m so impressed with his ability to change as the game has changed,” Eggleton said. “He’s turned that program around twice.
“I give a lot of credit to the kids and the coaches for putting the work in.”
Eggleton said, as always, matching Punxsutawney’s intensity up front will be the key.
“That’s kind of what we focus on every week,” he said. “. We know if we can win the battle up front, we have all the confidence in the world in our athletes that they can do what they need to do to make plays.”
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