By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
Central Columbia’s Dain Kowalski earned Player of the Game honors Friday from two media outlets covering the Blue Jays’ 21-7 win over Danville.
The junior made some big plays and was no doubt deserving of the awards. Besides, Jarrod Flick had already cornered the market on turning points in the battle of unbeatens.
Flick, a senior receiver/cornerback, stopped a drive the Ironmen desperately needed with a phenomenal red-zone interception, and then made consecutive back-breaking catches to give the Jays a two-score lead.
Central — despite 30 pass attempts and 188 yards from Jordan Thivierge — rushed the ball for 158 game-controlling yards and held the Ironmen to just 67 or less than 3 yards a pop.
“We pride ourselves on our run defense and we missed tackles,” said Danville coach Jim Keiser. “That’s not something we usually do.”
The Jays (5-0) dominated the first-half time of possession, with four drives that averaged 10 plays and four minutes of game time.
The first, helped by a pass interference call on third-and-11 in Danville territory, ended with a Kowalski 8-yard touchdown run. The others served to keep the Ironmen off the field and their offense out of rhythm.
“You have to be able to run the football,” said Jays coach Jason Hippenstiel. “That’s a team that prides itself on shutting that down and then picking the ball off when you have to throw.
“(Offensive coordinator Kirk Seesholtz) did a great job of mixing it up; they had no idea what was coming at any point.”
Danville’s best drive of the half ended suddenly on third-and-1 from the 11 when Dylan Hine (on one of the handful of blitzes Hippenstiel called) blindsided quarterback Weston Baylor. It forced a fumble recovered by Central’s Jake Klinger.
With just 67 total yards and a 7-0 deficit at halftime, the Ironmen (4-1) took the opening kickoff and put together a strong drive. Baylor completed passes of 16 and 23 yards, and fullback Sam Dressler gained 21 on four carries to move the ball to the Central 15.
On third down, Baylor threw a strong out to Bret Berg on the right sideline. The ball glanced off Berg’s hands and Flick, in pursuit to the ball, plucked the ball right at the sideline and was awarded an interception at the 2.
“I thought (Berg) caught it and I came up on him and the ball was just right there,” Flick said of his fourth pick. “I caught it and made sure my feet were in.”
“We pride ourselves on turning the ball over,” said Hippenstiel, “and Jarrod has been pretty clutch all year.”
It was crushing for the Ironmen, who couldn’t sustain a similar drive from that point. Their lone touchdown came on a 70-yard pass from Baylor to Isaiah Croll, who caught the ball in traffic near midfield and bolted into the clear.
“We came out (from halftime) and drive it right down the field,” said Keiser. “We blocked it better. We told the kids, ‘It’s there, you’ve just got to start making the blocks.’ We starting hitting it and it was working real well.
“The kids started getting confidence, we get in the red zone and, all of a sudden, boom! Then the ball is just off our hands and the kid makes a great play.”
Danville’s defense played better in the third quarter, as well, but late in the period Flick flushed all the hard work. He caught an out on third-and-14 and turned it into a 41-yard gain to the Ironmen 26. On the next snap, a virtual carbon copy except for his in-cut, he bumped off a defender and ran to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
“I thought I was going down after I hit the kid, but I just bounced off and found the end zone,” Flick said. “It felt great.”
Croll’s big scoring play came just 35 seconds later, on the next-to-last snap of the third. Danville’s third turnover, a Kowalski interception that he tipped to himself and secured near midfield, set up a four-play scoring drive. Aaron Johnson’s 3-yard run put the Jays up 21-7 with 6:28 left.
Though they threw for 191 yards, the Ironmen didn’t complete any of their last eight passes over two possessions.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way our front eight is playing, and our secondary is pretty good,” said Hippenstiel. “The kids knew what was coming (Friday). We know their bread and butter are the two backs (Dressler and Croll) in the backfield.”