By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
DANVILLE — Sam Dressler pushed through the pain as he moved toward his teammates and reluctantly fell in line to receive a district silver medal.
Along the way, Zack Kozick threw a comforting arm around his Danville classmate but Dressler’s sobs only grew louder. In fact, with every Ironman — player or coach — who approached to console him, Dressler became more inconsolable.
He wasn’t alone. Kozick broke down. Eric Haney, who maneuvered on new crutches to embrace each player along the line of orange-clad teammates, was also overcome.
“It was all emotional pain,” said Haney, the Ironmen’s all-state linebacker. “I don’t really care about my ankle right now. I care about my friends, my teammates, my brothers.”
The hallmark of this Danville senior class had been leaving every bit of themselves on the football field. The tears after a particularly difficult loss ended their careers Friday night were all they had left.
Troy quarterback Jed Wright ran an extremely efficient option offense that gained 391 yards — all but 19 on the ground — and had to punt just once during a 35-14 win in the District 4 Class AA title game.
The fourth-seeded Trojans (11-2), who hadn’t won a district crown since 1988, led 13-0 at halftime and then didn’t allow the defending district champion Ironmen to pull closer than 12.
“They kicked our rear ends. Simple as that,” said Danvile coach Jim Keiser. “All the credit to them. They’re a heck of a football team. I’m very impressed.”
The Ironmen (10-3) battled through a first half in which yards, let alone first downs, were harder to come by than they had been all season.
The Trojans went 91 yards on 15 plays with their first possession for a 7-0 lead. They then limited Danville to 35 yards and two first downs (on consecutive plays late in the first quarter) for the rest of the half.
Dressler, the Ironmen’s all-time rushing leader, gained just 24 yards on nine carries. The team managed just 84 yards on the ground at 3.2 a pop.
“I thought our defense stepped up and played tough,” said Troy coach Jim Smith, whose defensive front was especially stout between the tackles.
Late in the half, Danville punter Shayne Riley slipped on the wet grass during his kick and Troy had its best field position with 3 minutes to play. The Trojans managed the clock with timeouts before an 18-yard screen pass moved the ball to the Danville 1. A clock-killing spike was followed by a Wright sneak that was stuffed.
After a scramble to line up and snap the ball before time expired, Wright was able to fend off a sack attempt by Caleb Jones long enough to flick a wrong-handed TD pass to Ben Sherman.
“It gave us some breathing room going into the second half. Definitely,” said Wright.
Danville, which rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to Loyalsock in the district semis, wasn’t as devastated by the fluke scoring play as much as Troy’s score to open the third quarter. Wright broke a keeper for 20 yards to the end zone and Haney was left in his wake, felled by his left ankle, and forced to leave the game for good.
“We needed to come out in the second half and (get a) three-and-out,” Haney said. “But, especially on that play, where my ankle went out and they scored, it was just huge. It was hard to get (the enthusiasm) back it up after that.”
Troy rushed for 207 yards in the second half, attempting just one ill-advised deep pass that was intercepted by Danville’s Caleb Klein in the end zone with 5:21 play. The Ironmen used the turnover to pull within 27-14 as Jones got open for a 34-yard scoring strike from Kozick.
Kozick, filling in for injured Weston Baylor, threw for 166 yards and two TDs.
The Trojans, though, answered with yet another determined drive, moving the chains as needed, and finishing with Wright’s third rushing touchdown of the half and fourth of the game.
“It’s great that we could keep the ball rolling,” said Wright, who finished with a game-high 125 rushing yards on 26 keeps, while halfback Diante Jones added 99 on 15 carries. “Every player just knew their role and did their part on every single play.”
“It was the key to us winning the football game,” said Smith, whose team had a good 30 minutes of possession.
“It was tremendously frustrating,” said Keiser. “Everything we expected them to do, they did. When we had kids in position, they made good blocks. We didn’t play our assignments as well as we could have (but) they came off the ball and did a great job.”