By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
All season Danville was able to dictate the flow of games with a defense that was aggressive — at times lethal — from back to front.
Their superior secondary allowed the Ironmen to key on the run, and preyed on any team that thought it could pass its way out of trouble.
In Saturday’s state quarterfinal game, Wyomissing stunned Danville with 165 yards rushing and three touchdowns in fewer than eight minutes.
The trio of ball-hawking defensive backs responsible for most of Danville’s 27 interceptions (Bret Berg, Cale Rice and Zack Kozick) were each forced to make an early touchdown-saving tackle in the open field.
While their heads-up plays simply delayed a Spartans’ TD by an extra snap or three, it was quickly apparent the game would be unlike any the Ironmen played in an 11-3 season.
“It was a total change,” said Berg, a senior safety. “They just had a great overall offense for the most part. Their backs were great, their line blocked well ... they just schemed us and outplayed us.”
From the Spartans’ second offensive snap — a jet sweep Mason Smith took 33 yards along the right sideline — the Ironmen were on their heels. Berg made the first of Danville’s four TD-saving stops on that run; Notre Dame-bound Alex Anazalone ran 10 yards for the first of his three first-quarter TDs a play later.
On Wyomissing’s next play after a Danville punt, Smith went 57 yards on a carry Spartans long-time coach Bob Wolfrum admitted “didn’t go anywhere near where the play was supposed to go.
“We really didn’t have that play blocked,” Wolfrum added. “He just made a cut.”
Rice saved the TD, again frustrating Smith, and setting up Anzalone’s second score.
On their next possession, the Spartans got a 29-yard gain from Anzalone, with Kozick’s tackle forcing him to take three more carries to the end zone.
“They scored on almost every drive, but they could have scored a lot quicker,” said Danville coach Jim Keiser. “They have great speed, and we just got caught inside too many times. I really feel a lot of it was nerves at the beginning, a little bit awed by the big stage.”
Anzalone, a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder with the major college ride gets a lot of ink, and rightly so, but Mason’s runs were back-breakers for Danville. He totaled 144 yards on seven carries with four runs covering 30-plus yards.
“We’re blessed to have big-play people; they’re not just going to get five or 10 (yards),” said Wolfrum. “Our game plan was — because they have so many people stacked from tackle to tackle — that we were going to get outside. We did a good job of that. You put (opponents) in that kind of position (being on their heels).”
“I think (Wyomissing’s blocking at) the point of attack was huge,” Keiser said. “They didn’t even worry about our defensive line; they went straight to our ’backers and Berg. If you’re going to beat us, that’s what you’ve got to do: You’ve got to get on (junior linebacker Eric) Haney and you’ve got to get on Berg.”
Kozick’s second TD-saving tackle (on Smith inside the 10 after a 31-yard gain) forced a Wyomissing field goal for a 24-0 lead with seven minutes left in the half. The Ironmen then had a five-minute drive, their most substantial series of the game, and crossed midfield before turning it over on downs. They followed it with a Berg interception deep in Ironmen territory, but the momentum was short-lived as Smith picked off a tipped pass and returned it 22 yards for a TD.
“When it gets to that point you’ve got to play for pride, just keep on playing hard,” said Berg. “This was the best team I’ve ever been a part of. I’ll remember how close we were as a team, and that we played so well over the course of the year and got that district championship.”