By William Bowman
The Daily Item
Jim Keiser admitted his Danville football team was on cloud nine for a while after its win over Mount Carmel in the District 4 Class AA title game a week ago. So when did the Ironmen come back to earth?
“About five minutes into the Wyomissing film,” Keiser said.
For the first time in program history Danville is heading to the state quarterfinals, and it does so against one of the best teams Keiser said he has ever seen in the unbeaten District 3 champion Spartans. Ranked second in the state in Class AA, they roll into the game after routing fellow unbeaten Bermudian Springs 44-0 in last week’s District 3 final.
The two teams will meet for the first time at noon Saturday at HersheyPark Stadium.
The Spartans have been building for this season for several years and have all the pieces in place to make a state title run.
“We have had senior classes larger in number, but I don’t know if we’ve ever had a senior class with so many people who play,” said Wyomissing coach Bob Wolfrum, whose team was 12-0 last year before losing in the district final. “We have a lot of experience on this team.”
“This is the best team we have faced all year, by far,” Keiser said of the Spartans. “They remind me a lot of Southern in what they do on offense. They run this wing-T and have a couple of excellent backs.”
Led by Notre Dame recruit Alex Anzalone, the Spartans have outscored their opponents 525-126 in 13 games, including 396-48 in first-half scoring. Led by Anzalone’s 1,167 yards, Wyomissing has rushed for 4,029 yards with four different players gaining at least 600 yards. The four main ballcarriers all average at least 7.2 yards a carry.
“They have phenomenal skill kids,” Keiser said. “Everybody knows about Anzalone, but No. 30 (Mason Smith) is very quick and dangerous. They have a bunch of tough, physical kids.”
On the defensive side the ball, Wyomissing is just as good if not better. The Spartans have four shutouts and have really been tested only twice all season against a brutal schedule. Ten of Wyomissing’s 13 wins have come against teams with winning records, including seven against teams with at least eight wins.
“We schedule like this because to do anything in the playoffs, you need to play playoff-caliber teams during the season,” Wolfrum said. “I feel like we were really prepared for the playoffs. You can’t be afraid to lose. We’ve always said if you want to be a bullfighter, you have to play the bulls.”
All that being said, Keiser likes the way his team playing heading into the game and said the Ironmen (11-2), ranked seventh by the Pennsylvania Football News this week, won’t be intimidated.
Even with such a young roster — Danville has just five seniors on its roster and only three start — Keiser said he could feel things starting to come together late in the season. Then the Ironmen beat Selinsgrove in the season finale and Keiser knew they were onto something.
“Selinsgrove is a great football team and to beat a great football team you have to play a great football game and we did that,” said Keiser. “Selinsgrove played a heck of a game, but we played great to beat them. I just felt like we were hitting our stride at the right time.”
After pulling away from Loyalsock in its playoff opener, the Ironmen won back-to-back four-quarter battles to reach this point. In the District 4 semifinals, they needed an 85-yard TD drive late in the fourth quarter to outlast Athens, and then last week hit an 87-yard TD pass to Zack Kozick in the fourth quarter to beat Mount Carmel, 28-21.
The 13 games the Ironmen have played so far have really prepared the Ironmen for this point, Keiser said.
“We’ve been fortunate that every team we’ve played has given us something to get through the next week,” said Keiser. “Last week we faced a big, physical and athletic football team and we are doing that again this week.”
A week ago junior quarterback Weston Baylor rebounded from a tough game against Athens with a strong performance against Mount Carmel. Baylor accounted for all four Danville touchdowns, throwing three and running for another one. His TD pass to Bret Berg with less than five seconds to play in the first half gave the Ironmen a huge lift, Keiser said.
They will need production out of the quarterback this week as well. Baylor, in his first year as the starter, has thrown for nearly 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“The most important thing last week was that Weston didn’t let mistakes bother him. He just kept playing,” said Keiser. “That’s what we are going to need this week. We have to be able to throw the ball because they are so good stopping the run. We have to be able to throw to set up the run.”