The Danville News
DANVILLE — One week ago, Jim Keiser had a simple but direct message to his players at halftime, trailing 21-7 to Loyalsock in the District 4 Class AA semifinal game.
“I told them that we played as bad as we could play, but that we were still playing good defense,” he said. “We made adjustments and our kids came out and did what they were told to as we asked them if they wanted to keep playing football.”
Danville rallied for 21-unanswered second-half points to return to the District 4 Class AA title game for the second straight year. they face Troy (10-2) at 7 tonight at Ironmen Stadium.
Friday’s winner opens the state quarterfinals next weekend against the winner of Berks Catholic-Littletown game.
Troy pushed their winning streak to six straight last week with a 34-14 win over Montoursville.
Last year, Danville beat Mount Carmel in the title game to advance to the state playoffs for the first time.
“It’s not by chance they are back in this football game,” Troy head coach Jim Smith said. “They are the defending champs and there is a reason for that. They have intelligent athletes on the field and defensively, that is their strength.”
The Trojans defense has been stingy in its past six games, allowing an average of 12 points per game. Conversely, the offense is scoring an average of 40 points per game during the streak.
“Our defense has done a great job the last half of the season and teams have struggled to score points,” Smith said. “Our special teams have given our offense really good field position.”
Troy has scored 35 or more points eight times this year and they live and die by the option.
“We stop ourselves with fumbles,” he added. “We haven’t done a lot of that in a while and we have to eliminate penalties. Successfully, the option is good five times a game and with that you end up with 35 points. Sooner or later, the option works and that’s been our success.”
Smith said there are times when opposing teams can shut down the option for a play or two, but one over pursuit or wrong choice on who has the ball and a big play can be ripped off.
Sam Dressler keyed Danville’s second-half comeback last week after being held to 13 rushing yards in the first half. The schools’ all-time leading rusher ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
“Sam’s a lot healthier, he’s got the power back,” Keiser said. “I know he’s still playing through a little bit of pain, but these kids are determined to reach their goals, which is to get back to states and improve on last year’s performance.”
Danville lost to Wyomissing, 52-0, in last year’s quarterfinals at Hershey.
“Offensively, they are impressive, but, not dynamic or explosive,” Smith added. “They wear you down and they have a good running back in Sam Dressler. It’s not by chance he is their leading rusher and the reason for their success these past few years.”
To stop Danville’s running game — which can feature a belly, counter or power-I play — Smith said the Trojans have to tackle well. He said they have to win the special teams battle if they want to have a shot to win the game.
“You cannot simulate their athletes,” Keiser said of preparing for the option. “The (Jed) Wright kid is a phenomenal player at quarterback and he makes great reads and runs the ball well. They have two running backs in Brandon Mattocks and Diante Jones, both of whom are rushing for more than seven yards a carry.”
Keiser noted that Danville — 4-1 in its last five games — has to play assignment defense to be affective against the triple option.
“The guys have to make the tackles as they are powerful runners and once they make contact, they can make a spin move and take off,” Keiser said.
One advantage going into Friday’s title game, Smith believes, is the triple option offense the Trojans use.
“They have to change the way they approach the option as we live and die by it,” he said. “There is no way a team can recreate in practice what we do. We have a quarterback in Jed Wright who can run the triple option as good as any high school team run its.”
“We have to cut down on penalties and we also have to clean up on our turnovers,” Keiser said of some keys for a win. “If we do what we are capable of, we’ll be fine, if not, we are going to be in trouble.”