The Danville football team finds itself facing an opponent that has a very specific way that it wants to impose its will for the second straight week.
Last week, the Ironmen faced a Mount Carmel team that wanted to control the line of scrimmage with its size, and the clock with its running game.
This week, Danville travels to Jersey Shore to face a Bulldogs team that wants to play at a fast pace — an uncomfortably fast pace — to wear their opponent down.
Call it going from wrestling a grizzly bear to racing a cheetah.
“It’s a very talented team, a very confident team,” Danville coach Mike Brennan said. “It’s a team that’s won a lot of games over the last few years, and they act like it, and play like it. They like to play fast, and there’s not a lot they don’t do well.”
The Bulldogs enter the game 7-0, and haven’t lost to a District 4 team since a Oct. 4, 2019 loss to Southern Columbia. They’ve won 14 consecutive games against District 4 opponents, and made the Class 4A semifinals in 2019 and the state championship game in 2020.
Jersey Shore is in the midst of a brutal spot in its schedule. The Bulldogs beat 5-1 Milton last week, face 5-2 Danville on Friday night, and have a nonleague contest against 6-1 Bald Eagle Area before wrapping up the season with 5-2 Central Mountain.
“We’ve been treating this stretch like that start of the playoffs. We’ve been saying for a couple weeks now, ‘Hey, this is like a playoff (game).’ It’s a playoff atmosphere,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “We’re practicing (and) treating it like it’s a playoff game, and it won’t be any different this week. We’re just focusing solely on Danville.”
It’s a Danville team also faces a pretty brutal stretch of games. The Ironmen have games with Shamokin and Southern Columbia after playing Montoursville, Mount Carmel and this batch of Bulldogs.
“Playing different styles (of football) like this is only going to help us come the playoffs,” Brennan said.
The key to this stretch for the Ironmen is to learn from it. This stretch might cost them some seeding in the tournament, but with the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division II title clinched, Danville’s goals are still clearly in front of them.
“We are preparing one day at time, one week at time, but we also have to keep the big picture in mind as well,” Brennan said. “These games are getting us physically and mentally prepared to win.
“The key is to be playing our best football when November starts.”
To be successful on Friday night at Thompson Street Stadium, Danville will have to take a little bit of a page from the Mount Carmel playbook. The Ironmen are certainly capable of hitting a big play against the Jersey Shore defense — Carson Persing has 38 catches for 712 yards and nine scores this season — but Danville will have to control the clock as to not let the Bulldogs run a crazy amount of plays.
Jersey Shore ran 97 plays against Lewisburg (71 runs and 26 passes) earlier this season, and 60 in a mercy-rule-shortened 62-7 win over Milton. They average 65 offensive plays per game.
“We are going to have to possess the football, and have a lot of good possessions,” Brennan said. “We can’t get behind the sticks, and we have to use our offense to slow their offense down.”
First-year starter Brady Jordan might not be as accurate as the last two starters — Tanner Lorson and Brandon Wheary — but despite completing only 46 percent of his passes, the Bulldogs average nearly 18.1 yards per completion. Jordan has thrown for 1,040 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Senior Cayden Hess has been his favorite target. Hess has 23 catches for 480 yards and six touchdowns this season, and along with Persing, Hess is the only current active District 4 receiver with more than 2,000 career yards.
Hayden Packer has 578 rushing yards to lead the team with eight touchdowns, but both Brady Jordan and freshman Elijah Jordan have topped 400 yards on the ground this season.