By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
Jim Keiser has drawn up some fine game plans in his four seasons as Danville’s coach.
Not in the deepest recesses of his imagination, though, could he have conceived Friday’s third-quarter sequence that secured the Ironmen’s second Heartland-I championship in three years.
Danville essentially played keepaway from Selinsgrove in the period, and turned a tenuous one-score halftime lead into a steep 17-point margin in eight minutes’ time.
The 24-14 win capped a unbeaten run through HAC-I and also locked up the top seed and home-field advantage for the Ironmen throughout the District 4 Class AA tournament.
“I told them in the locker room (before the game), ‘If you leave everything on this field, when you come back here you’ll be champions,’” said Keiser. “And they did.”
Danville (8-2, 6-0 HAC-I) will likely host Loyalsock in the first round, a rematch of a Week 2 game won by the Ironmen 20-6. Selinsgrove (7-3, 5-1), which had won three consecutive games, still claimed the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA field. Official District 4 pairings are due out today.
“I’ve got to hand it to Danville,” said Seals coach Dave Hess. “They are a great football team, and they beat us fair-and-square. No doubt about it — they were the better team.”
Selinsgrove committed six turnovers Friday, five on a string of possessions between the second and third quarters. It handcuffed a team that gained 176 first-half yards, including 73 rushing by freshman sensation Juvan Batts. He finished with 108 on 17 carries.
The Seals survived three giveaways in a little less than eight minutes of the second quarter, heading to halftime down 14-7. They could not, however, recover from a fumble on the opening kick of the second half and another kickoff that went uncovered shortly after, both of which set up Danville scoring drives.
“It might have been the most frustrating (quarter ever),” said Hess.
The Ironmen kicked off three times before Selinsgrove ran its first play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
Cale Rice recovered the fumble on the second-half kickoff at Selinsgrove’s 40. Danville overcame an intentional grounding penalty when Bret Berg made a spectacular, one-handed catch in double-coverage on third-and-16 to the Seals’ 6.
“I don’t know how it happened,” said Berg, who caught five passes for 97 yards. “I pretty much told myself before the play, ‘I’m not dropping it.’ We needed it.”
The Ironmen scored on a Weston Baylor pass to Zack Kozick for a 21-7 lead. Shayne Riley then kicked short to an open area on the right side in front of Danville’s bench, and Rice bolted to the ball and recovered it.
“It was a planned pooch, but the kid bailed out of there. I thought, ‘Oh, my God! This is beautiful.’ It worked perfectly,” said Keiser. “The thing was, we didn’t want to kick it to Juvan Batts, and with the wind as hard as it was in our face I knew he wasn’t going to get it in the end zone. I didn’t want Batts touching the ball. He is awesome. He is something special.”
“It was a young mistake,” said Hess. “We tried to make a personnel switch to where they were pooch-kicking it, and there was a little confusion and they let the ball lay.”
Danville settled for an 18-yard Riley field goal when Selinsgrove’s defense stuffed three consecutive quarterback runs from the 1-yard line. The lead, though, was 17 with 16 minutes left.
“They’re a great team, and you cannot let them get in the game at all,” said Baylor, who was 11-of-19 for 157 yards. “I think going ahead by two scores there ... it didn’t shut them down, but (it helped).”
Danville started the game with a four-play, 73-yard scoring drive sparked by a 46-yard pass to Berg. Sam Dressler ran 20 yards for the first of his two TDs in the half. Selinsgrove answered with a 73-yard series that ended with a pair of incomplete passes from the Danville 2.
The Seals tied the score within minutes thanks to a 4-yard punt that set them up at the 15. The Ironmen then when 64 yard in 13 plays, converting a trio of third downs along the way, to get Dressler in again.
“It did feel like a game where the team that had the ball last might come up with the win,” said Hess.
The last 11 minutes of the half was scoreless thanks, in part, to a 52-second span during which possession changed hands three times. Kozick intercepted a pass with 73 seconds to play, but the Ironmen missed a 34-yard field goal at the horn.
“A couple of these guys were part of that 2010 team (that started 12-0),” said Keiser, “and they wanted to make their own way, make a little bit of success for themselves. They’re driven, a driven group.”