Elijah Fitton

Bradford’s Elijah Fitton (18) goes airborne for more yardage during the Owls’ loss at Kane earlier in the year. The two teams meet again tonight at Parkway Field.

Kane’s 51-7 rout of Bradford during Week 3 at Paul R. Miller Stadium is one that Owls head coach Jeff Puglio isn’t letting the team forget.

During the loss, Bradford was without starting quarterback Austen Davis and the team committed seven total turnovers and found themselves down 44-0 at halftime.

But Puglio reminding the team of the lopsided score during practice this week is not only being used to motivate them ahead of Friday’s rematch at Parkway Field, but to also remind them of how far the team has come since that night.

After suffering large defeats by its first three opponents in which the running clock rule was in effect, Bradford went toe-to-toe with Ridgway in Johnsonburg last Friday and played its best game of the season so far in a 28-21 defeat, outgaining the Elkers in total offensive yards and winning the turnover battle.

“That team is gone,” Puglio said of the Owls’ early struggles. “That team doesn’t exist anymore that lost 51-7, and we got to make sure we remember that and we don’t slip back into those habits that we were doing.”

Davis completed 13-of-38 passes for 150 yards with a touchdown and interception during the loss to Ridgway in his first game back since suffering an injury against the Elkers two weeks prior. The senior also led the team with 89 rushing yards on 14 carries and a score.

During the first loss to Kane, Lucas Laktash started in place of Davis and passed for 67 yards and was picked off three times.

“Austen being back is going to give us a much different look, and I thought we did a really good job getting Lucas ready,” Puglio said. “I thought he was comfortable with it, but he hadn’t had the reps that Austen had all summer. I feel a lot more comfortable with where we’re at offensively going into this one versus the last time.”

“It’s everything for us with him,” Puglio later added regarding Davis’ return. “What he can do for our offense and how comfortable the kids are with him, down to the cadence, his voice and all that stuff, his command of the huddle, but also defensively, what he does for us at (cornerback). He had a pick on Friday, it was kind of a big momentum shift for us, so having him out there just makes everybody feel a lot more comfortable.”

After having to watch Kane’s dissemination of Bradford from the sideline Week 3, Davis is eager to help the team build off last Friday’s momentum and turn the tide against the Wolves on Homecoming and Senior Night.

“The score did not represent how we can play and we came back with kind of a fire in our step next week,” Davis said regarding Bradford’s previous loss to Kane. “Everybody was disciplined in practice and we were ready to go.”

After Kane’s blowout win over Bradford at home, the Wolves fell to St. Marys for the second time this season by a score of 59-27 on the road, dropping their record to 1-3.

Harley Morris and Josh Buhl each rushed for over 100 yards during the team’s previous win over the Owls (0-4) and quarterback Zuke Smith threw a touchdown and ran for another. Morris also intercepted two passes that night.

Puglio said Bradford has more confidence going into this matchup after Friday’s narrow loss to Ridgway and believes moving some players around benefitted the team last week.

“We kind of shuffled some positions around and I thought that was good, putting some people into some different spots, using their skill set a little differently and they got comfortable, and the kids played really really hard,” Puglio said.

Last week’s performance against the Elkers was a step up particularly for the Bradford offense, which has gotten off to slow starts and hurt itself the first three weeks with mental mistakes and turnovers.

Puglio said the team is a work in progress when it comes to cleaning up the mental errors and achieving the offense’s full potential. But one aspect that can help the offense become more dangerous is the presence of running back Nolan Gonzalez, who tallied 51 rushing yards on 14 carries and a touchdown against Ridgway last week.

“We’re getting there. It’s not perfect by (any) means, but you can see the improvement,” Puglio said. “Nolan’s starting to run really really hard which is really really encouraging for us because if we get Nolan going, we can get them to do things they don’t really want to do.

“We’re going to try to throw obviously, but if Nolan’s running and getting us big yards like he was able to do Friday, it makes it difficult for the defense because you’ve got to plan for our receivers. We’ve got really good athletes outside.”

When the Owls forced a three-and-out on Ridgway’s first offense possession last week, Puglio knew something felt different.

Getting off to a fast start and playing disciplined, mistake-free football will once again be keys for Bradford to avenge its previous defeat to Kane Friday night at 7 p.m at Parkway Field in what will be the Owls’ first home game since Sept. 25 — the game Davis suffered his injury and the Owls lost to Ridgway, 45-14.

“We got to come out with some fire, we’re showing it in practice finally. As long as they have that fire, we come out and we know we can match up with them,” Puglio said. “We’re excited for homecoming, it’s Senior Night, so there’s a lot to be excited about (and) hopefully get up for.”

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