By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
DANVILLE — At times throughout the season Danville coach Jim Keiser lamented the fact that Ironmen receivers weren’t consistently catching Weston Baylor’s passes. Drives were cut short, points were left on the field and, last week at Montoursville, a winnable game was lost.
That wasn’t at all the case in Friday night’s Heartland-I showdown with Shikellamy, particularly in the first half.
Baylor completed 10 of 14 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns in the half, and Danville broke a 7-all tie with 38 unanswered points to clinch the HAC-I championship with a 45-7 win. The Ironmen (7-1, 5-0) forged a two-game lead in the division with one to play.
The Braves, who committed four turnovers on six second-half possessions Friday, dropped to 3-5, 2-2.
“We got behind the 8-ball and they did what a good team does: They bounced back and kept on rolling,” said Shikellamy coach Todd Tilford. “All the credit to Danville.”
Baylor and his receivers set the tone from the game’s opening series, marching 69 yards in 11 plays for a 7-0 lead. However, it wasn’t nearly that simple.
After completing his first pass (a 22-yard fade to Zack Kozick on third-and-8), Baylor had to overcome the first of three penalties on the drive. He did so with back-to-back throws to Kozick and Caleb Klein, the latter an 8-yard pickup on third-and-5.
After consecutive procedure penalties put the Ironmen in first-and-20 from the Braves’ 42, Baylor threw a 22-yard dart to Caleb Jones on a streak down the left seam. Three plays later, the Ironmen converted third-and-12 when Baylor threw opposite a three-receiver set to Kozick for a 22-yard touchdown.
In the game’s first 5-plus minutes, Baylor completed five of seven passes for 81 yards to three receivers. He hit five receivers in his sterling first half. He finished 11-of-17 for 230 yards.
“I think when there’s more threats on the field — with Sam (Dressler) back, myself and (Evan) Tanner’s making plays left and right — there’s just too many guys to worry about,” said Kozick, who finished with four receptions for a team-high 101 yards.
With just over 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Ironmen muffed a punt that put the Braves at the Danville 8. A third-down holding call pushed the ball back to the 19, but Garrett Kemberling and Nathan Shrawder hooked up on an 18-yard bubble screen. Dwayne Pepper bulled in on fourth down to knot the score at 7, the only first-quarter points allowed by the Ironmen all season.
Not even 30 seconds later, on the first play of the second quarter, Baylor hit Tanner on a drag pattern from left to right across the field. Tanner was popped by Shrawder near the sideline, but stayed upright and inbounds, 77 yards for the go-ahead score.
“Kozick came down and made a great block; I never would have had that (touchdown) without his block,” said Tanner, who had 97 yards on four grabs. “Also I thought I was out of bounds, but I didn’t hear a whistle so I just kept going with it and acted like it never happened.”
On their next series, the Ironmen converted a pair of third downs and a fourth for a 21-7 lead. Dressler, a senior fullback who missed last week’s loss to injury, gained 22 of his 57 rushing yards on the drive, including a 3-yard TD.
Shikellamy recorded its initial first down midway through the second quarter, but had to punt for a third time. Shortly after, Kozick caught a pinpoint pass just beyond Shrawder’s reach at the sideline and tight-roped his way to the clear for a 50-yard score that made it 28-7.
“The kids were doing a decent job against the run, and (the Ironmen) got themselves in situations to make one-on-one plays. Danville made the plays and we didn’t. Pretty simple,” said Tilford. “It’s kind of pick-your-poison against a good team, so we loaded up against the run and challenged our kids to make the plays. (The Ironmen) made some tough plays. We had a couple kids there and there were a couple tough catches.
“Sometimes you have to roll the dice, and we came up short.”