By William Bowman
The Daily Item
Both Jim Keiser, the Danville coach, and his Montoursville counterpart, J.C. Keefer, have been talking for weeks about how each game this season becomes more critical as the weeks pass.
A lot of times you can pass it off as coaches being coaches.
But looking at where both Danville and Montoursville stand in their respective Heartland divisions, where they sit in the race for District 4 Class AA playoff positioning, and what they have left on their schedules, neither of them are blowing smoke anymore: Friday’s game is big.
Montoursville (4-2) visits Danville (5-1) on Friday night in the teams’ first meeting since 2009 when they were HAC-I rivals. The Warriors would like to rebound from last week’s disappointing loss to Lewisburg where they let a 16-point first-half lead slip away, while Danville would like to continue its run at a home playoff game and possibly the top seed in AA.
And with what both teams have left on the schedule, Friday’s game is vital. After coming to Danville this week, Montoursville closes with Milton (4-2), surging Mifflinburg (2-4) and rival Loyalsock (3-3). Danville has an even tougher road with games at Shikellamy (3-3) and Bloomsburg (5-1) the next two weeks before closing out with Selinsgrove (4-2).
Entering Friday’s game, both teams are pretty secure in their playoff positioning, but in a fight for a top-four seed. The Ironmen are second in the AA race, just 30 points out of first, but only five points ahead of fourth-place Athens. Montoursville is fifth, but just 60 points ahead of eighth-place Loyalsock. So Friday’s game will be a big point get for someone.
“This is going to be another dogfight, we know that,” said Keefer, in his second season replacing Hall of Fame coach Jim Bergen. “Last week we feel like we let one get away. We felt like we were just as good if not better than Lewisburg.
“Now we have to wait seven days to get this taste out of our mouth.”
Keiser, who has led the Ironmen to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, said his team understands the importance of the next four Friday nights.
“They definitely get it, we don’t have to tell them,” he said. “We do stress it to the seniors, though. This is it for them. If we don’t get the job done here, we could be watching a playoff game in week 11.”
The Ironmen got their ground game back on track a week ago against Jersey Shore. Both Sam Dressler and Isaiah Croll ran for at least 100 yards, combining for 272 yards and three scores. It was a move Keiser hopes instills some confidence in his offense.
“It was a big boost for us, especially after what happened up at Central and the way we were just shut down,” he said. “Some of the younger guys haven’t had that happen, so it was nice for them to get some confidence back.”
Sophomore linebacker Gunnar Feldmann is expected to miss his third game in a row with an injury, which creates some changes for the Danville defense in a week where it will get a bunch of different looks from Montoursville.
The Warriors use, what looks like on the surface, two completely different offenses: a power running game with one quarterback and a spread set with another.
“We have seen everything that they do at one point this season, but we haven’t seen the same team do it in the same game like this,” said Keiser. “Having Gunnar out is killing us, because it really throws a monkey wrench into what we’re doing defensively.”
Keefer said that while two offenses look different, in reality they are quite similar.
“We’ve gotten pretty good at it, and it looks like it’s complicated but it’s really not,” said Keefer. “For our five guys up front, nothing changes, we block it the same. It’s other six guys who are doing different things. We run the same plays out of different formations.”