By Bill Albright
For The Daily Item
JERSEY SHORE – After completing the first half of the season unbeaten, the Danville Ironmen got the second half off to a solid start Friday night at Thompson Street Stadium.
Getting off to a quick start, the Ironmen built up a 17-0 lead before prevailing 24-7 over Jersey Shore in a Heartland Athletic Conference Division I battle.
“I just told our kids, ‘hey, keep your heads up because you just played a really good football team,’ ” said Shore coach Tom Gravish.
Danville (6-0 overall, 4-0 HAC-I) wasted no time asserting itself as the Ironmen scored on their first two possessions.
Danville returned the opening kickoff to midfield, and from there, it only took six plays to score. Quarterback Weston Baylor put the Ironmen on the board with a 10-yard touchdown run. Shayne Riley kicked his first of three PATs and less than three minutes in to the game, Danville led for good at 7-0.
The Bulldog defense showed signs of stiffening on the second Danville possession, holding the Ironmen short of the sticks on the Shore 16. Riley, one of the better kickers in the area, drilled a 34-yard field goal with just 15 ticks left in the first quarter for a 10-0 Danville lead.
“(Riley) is a pretty special kid and we are very fortunate to have him,” said Danville coach Jim Keiser. “That helps our kicking game, but we didn’t cover as well tonight as we would have liked. He kicked some deep balls, but he also showed his versatility when he kicked the onside kick. We rarely see him other than on Friday nights because he has soccer practice. He just gives us a great weapon.”
After a defensive stand and a pair of punts, the Ironmen went up 17-0 after taking over on their own 30.
Sam Dressler ripped off 32 yards, Isaiah Croll picked up three and, on the third play of the possession, Baylor found Evan Turner all alone behind the Shore secondary for a 38-yard TD connection.
Dressler finished with 118 yards on 13 carries before leaving the game for good after his first carry of the second half with an ankle injury. With Dressler missing, Croll took over to finish with 97 yards and one TD.
“They made some adjustments on us at halftime and then we lost Sam,” said Keiser. “Sam is such a big part of our football team, but Isaiah stepped up and really did a great job.”
Gravish was also quick to point out that the tandem of Dressler and Croll put a lot of pressure on the Bulldog defensive unit.
“They have a great tandem with those two backs,” he said. “They are as good a 1-2 punch in the backfield that I have seen in a long time and I really mean that. Their offensive line gives their guys a chance to run the ball even when there isn’t great blocking. They never get blown up too bad on any one play and coach Keiser does a great job with them.”
The defensive units for both teams took control in a scoreless third period before Shore took over on its own 13-yard line in the fourth and put on a 15-play scoring drive. Utoa Agae-Naipo capped it with a one-yard run.
Bulldog quarterback Logan English finished with 135 yards on 10 completions, but was sacked seven times while also throwing two interceptions.
With the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2) still hanging around and very much in the game facing the 10-point deficit, the Ironmen sealed the deal when Croll carried four straight times, picking up 41 yards and the game’s final score. On the drive, the Ironmen were aided by a 15-yard penalty against the Bulldogs.
“Isaiah was just outstanding on that last drive,” Keiser said. “And what about the defense? I thought our defense played great tonight as well. We are fortunate that we have two excellent backs and Isaiah is no slouch. He has great cut moves and he showed that tonight. He also showed some power and he just did a great job for us.”