From the opening kickoff, you could tell this game would be different for Bradford.
No lopsided final score, no second half running clock, and most importantly, it wasn’t going to be another tally in the loss column.
On Friday night against Punxsutawney — a team that had been struggling just as badly as Bradford was — the Owls were out to prove that this time it would be different.
After a back-and-forth first half, Bradford played a nearly flawless final 24 minutes to earn a 59-34 victory over the Chucks and to register its first win of the season.
It had head coach Jeff Puglio feeling especially satisfied after the game — particularly for his group of seniors that played a big role in Friday’s result.
“Just the grit,” Puglio said on what made the difference down the stretch. “Nothing has gone right the last six weeks. They show up every single Monday ready to go. They deserved this and they earned it. I’m really happy for the kids.”
Senior quarterback/do-it-all-man Caleb Nuzzo returned that opening kickoff 70 yards to the endzone to give Bradford (1-6) its first lead of the season and set in motion a wild 48 minutes.
The first half saw nine touchdowns between the two teams, including a 104-second span in the second quarter with four scores.
The two teams had combined to muster just 65 total points coming into the game.
Punxsy (0-7) found pay dirt in a variety of ways. Max London caught an 80-yard pass and ran for an 85-yard score in the first quarter. Then, Kameron Fagout had a receiving touchdown as well as a rushing score in the second quarter.
For Bradford — after Nuzzo’s return — its offense ran through running back Derek Sunafrank. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound bruiser scored four touchdowns and had over 120 yards rushing at halftime. At one point, Sunafrank had five straight Owl touchdowns after an early third-quarter score.
“We’re really happy with the way Derek played,” Puglio said. “He’s been running hard all year. He’s been a little frustrated with the way things have been going. He’s been patient, but he has really waiting his turn and tonight was his night. Really excited for him.”
The turning point in the game came late in the first half when Bradford got the ball on an extremely short field and the score tied 27-27.
Sunafrank carried the ball in for a six-yard score to put the Owls up by seven at the half, then tallied a one-yard rushing plunge out of intermission before Jonah Rowry put the finishing touches on the game with a 45-yard interception return mid-way through the third.
After allowing 27 points and four plays of at least 40 yards in the first half, the Owls defense allowed just one long touchdown and seven points in the second half.
“We had a good plan for them coming in and they were taking advantage of some of the things we had planned for,” Puglio admitted. “ So (defensive coordinator Jerry) Pattison made a really good adjustment on what we were going to do to them and kind of took some of their fire away. Once we did that, we started rolling.”
Helping Bradford in the second half and throughout the night was the turnover differential. The Owls, which had been averaging three turnovers per game through their first six contests this season, did not lose any on Friday and instead forced five Punxsy miscues. In addition to Rowry’s house-call in the second half, the Owls also forced a fumble and another interception to ice the game.
“That’s been the name of the season for us: if we have turnovers, we are going to struggle,” Puglio said. “We didn’t have turnovers; tonight we created turnovers. That’s big for us to not stall us.”
In addition to Sunafrank’s 198 yards rushing, Nolan Gonzalez had 97 yards and a touchdown, and Nuzzo went 12-for-20 through the air for 97 yards. He connected with Austen Davis on 10 of those completions, including a 10-yard score four seconds into the fourth quarter.
That balanced offensive attack was part of the game plan against Punxsy’s front seven, according to Puglio.
“We saw some things they were doing,” he said. “They were sending some linebackers and trying to get some advantages on the edge, which we were trying to do pretty much the entire year and finally it came for us tonight. Really excited with the effort the kids had.”
Max London had 175 yards and two scores to lead Punxsy, which actually outgained Bradford by nearly 40 yards in the game.
But the Owls took advantage of those Punxsy miscues, and were able to control the clock when they needed to to close out a much-needed, much worked-for victory.
“It’s absolutely great,” Puglio said. “Struggling to put points on the board, and we explode tonight for it. Great for these kids and great for these seniors in their homecoming game to go out with a ‘W’.
The Owls travel to Clarion to face the 6-1 Bobcats next Friday.
Punxsy 13 14 0 7—34
Bradford 20 14 13 12—59
First Downs: P: 14, B: 21; Rushes/Yards Rushing: P: 28-311, B: 42-323; Yards Passing: P: 145, B: 97; Comp-Att-Int: P: 6-16-3, B:12-20-0; Penalties: P: 10-73, B: 9-100; Fumbles-Lost: P: 3-2, B: 2-0; Total Yards: P: 456, B: 420; Offensive Plays: P: 47, B: 58
Passing: P: Peyton Hetrick 6-13-145-2-1, Kameron Falgout 0-3-0-0-2; B: Caleb Nuzzo 12-20-97-1
Rushing: P: Max London 12-175-2, Falgout 11-88-1, Jacoby 3-37, Yoder 2-1; B: Derek Sunafrank 21-198-5, Nolan Gonzalez 13-97-1, Nuzzo 4-25, Davis 1-5, Griffin 2-4, Laktash 1 (-3)
Receiving: P: London 2-124-1, Falgout 3-32-1, Bennett 1-9 ; B: Austen Davis 10-87-1, Sunafrank 1-11, Pits 1-19
B: Nuzzo, 70-yard kickoff return (Nuzzo missed PAT), 11:47
P: London, 80-yard pass from Hetrick (PAT blocked), 9:56
B: Sunafrank, 18-yard run (Nuzzo PAT), 7:03
P: London, 85-yard run (Hetrick PAT), 6:09
B: Sunafrank, 12-yard run (Nuzzo PAT), 1:32
P: Falgout, 26-yard pass from Hetrick (Hetrick PAT), 3:45
B: Sunafrank, 50-yard run (Nuzzo PAT), 2:49
P: Falgout, 44-yard run (Hetrick PAT), 2:21
B: Sunafrank, 6-yard run (Nuzzo PAT), 2:01
B: Sunafrank, 1-yard run (PAT blocked), 7:47
B: Jonah Rowry, 45-yard interception return (Nuzzo PAT), 6:05
B: Davis, 10-yard pass from Nuzzo (Nuzzo missed PAT), 11:56
P: London, 67-yard run (Hetrick PAT), 10:39
B: Gonzalez, 3-yard run (Nuzzo missed PAT), 7:49