By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE — Jim Keiser must feel like the basketball coach whose team erases a large deficit, then loses by 18 points in overtime.
The Danville coach should be happy this week as most if not all of his injured starters have returned from the Ironmen’s agonizingly long injured list.
For the Ironmen, who visit rival Selinsgrove on Friday night in the regular-season and Heartland Athletic Conference Division I finale, it has been more steps backward than forward.
They lost three starters to injuries in last Friday’s win over visiting Bloomsburg.
“We just started getting guys back, and then we lost (junior outside linebacker) Gabe Shope, (senior cornerback) Garrett Krum and (senior quarterback) Weston Baylor,” he said.
Baylor, who left early in the game, sustained a broken foot and was scheduled for surgery today.
Keiser said Shope’s injury may also be season-ending and Krum is out a minimum of two weeks.
The good news is that injured senior running backs Sam Dressler and Isaiah Croll are expected to return to the lineup, although Keiser didn’t know if both would be able to play a full game or at full strength.
The game means nothing in the HAC-I standings, with the Ironmen (8-1, 5-0 HAC-I) having already clinched the title, but it is a different story when it comes to District 4 points. Selinsgrove (4-5, 3-2) needs a win to secure one of the two home games in the Class AAA semifinals while Danville needs to win (and Montoursville to lose to Loyalsock) for a shot at the No. 1 seed and home field throughout the Class AA tournament.
“We could end up just about anywhere, based on if we win, and we need to win to get any kind of a home game for the playoffs,” Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess said.
“It’s a Friday night football game against a long-time rival. It’s a big game for us. We have a lot of respect for Danville. That coaching staff does a great job and the kids are great kids,” Hess added.
The teams are quite familiar with one another. In fact, Keiser said, he modeled the Ironmen’s defense on the Seals’ 3-5.
“They have had some struggles but they have played some very good teams. They probably have the toughest schedule in District 4. They are battle-tested,“ he said.
Keiser said that watching film confirmed their assumptions that the Seals are big and fast, well coached and, typical of Selinsgrove teams, they get a lot of people to the ball.
“That’s definitely a concern of ours,” he said.
Hess said earlier in the week that the Seals were preparing as if Baylor would be under center. But, according to Keiser, his replacement, senior wide receiver Zach Kozick should be a more than capable substitute.
“Zach is one of the most intelligent kids in the school and one of the most intelligent football players we have in our system,” Keiser said.
“He is a four-year player, a starter for three, and he knows the game plan. I don’t see anything changing with him,” Keiser said.
Hess said the Ironmen have good players across the board.
“They are always prepared, in shape and extremely well coached and disciplined. They do everything well and they are probably the most fundamentally sound team we will see aside from Southern (Columbia),” Hess added.
He the linebackers pose potential problems as well. “They are probably the best group we will see all year in terms of attacking through the offensive front and making plays in the backfield. Their linebackers are aggressive against the run and they find spaces, it’s crazy the way they play defense,” he said.