Danville's fourth quarter touchdown sinks Athens 14-13
DANVILLE - Most any coach will tell you that there are no moral victories, especially when the postseason rolls around.
True as that may be, there is always something to be said about effort, determination and heart, and while the freshness of a 14-13 loss to Danville may sting Athens for a while after Friday, perhaps the Wildcats will be able to look back on the game later on and be proud of the effort, determination and heart they showed against the district's top seed.
But that time was not on Friday as despite displaying all three attributes in a big way and leading the game halfway through the fourth quarter, the Athens football team was unable to come away with a win in the District 4 AA semifinal at Danville as the Ironmen scored a late touchdown and also came up with two big plays earlier in the game to hold off the Wildcats for the win.
"Their kids played with a lot of heart and guts and so did our kids," said Athens coach Jack Young. "I hope everybody got their money's worth because it was a heck of a ball game. We had some talented kids out there and they all left it on the field tonight. You had two good teams going at it and I told our kids that I'm super proud of them with the pride that they displayed tonight. We were not only representing Athens but the entire Northern Tier and I think we proved that we deserved to be here but there are no moral victories. We're disappointed in the loss but congratulate them on a good victory."
One of the other big plays for Danville was a 39-yard touchdown run from Cale Rice in the first quarter, which was one of only six of Danville's 48 rushing plays went for eight or more yards on the evening, with three of those coming on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats dominated the line of scrimmage for the most part up until that drive. For the game, the Ironmen ended up with a 189-106 advantage over the Wildcats on the ground, but 124 of those came on that game-winning drive and Rice's first quarter scoring run.
Athens sacked Ironman quarterback Weston Baylor five times and had eight Danville plays go for a loss. Danville also did not complete a single pass as Baylor came up empty on eight attempts, as he threw one interception and also lost a pair of fumbles. But despite having a 3-2 advantage in turnovers gained, Athens was only able to turn one of them into a score.
After Rice's run had put Danville up 7-0 in the first, Athens forced Baylor's second fumble of the night and Scott Laidlaw recovered it at the Danville 18-yard line early in the second quarter. Athens took advantage of the outstanding field position and capitalized five plays later when Tyler Birdsall punched it in from three yards out to tie the game 7-7.
Birdsall was held in check by Danville for most of the first half and had just 22 rushing yards at the half. But some halftime adjustments opened up some holes for him in the second half and after Athens stopped Danville at the Wildcat 35-yard line on downs on the Ironmen's first drive of the second half, the Wildcats took over and went 65 yards in six plays to take a 13-7 lead. Birdsall accounted for all six plays and 50 yards on that drive, including the 13-yard touchdown run, with a 15-yard pass interference penalty accounting for the rest. But Danville blocked the PAT, which would prove to be the other big play of the night for the Ironmen.
"I think both teams made some little adjustments throughout the game and we thought we had something at halftime and we came out and took advantage of it," said Young. "Then they made some adjustments with their offense and they ran that little belly dive and got some leverage on us."
After Athens took the lead, the teams would only exchange punts three times and a 52-yard punt by Troy Stivason would flip field position and pin Danville at its own 15-yard line with 7:46 remaining in the game. But after Athens had held Danville's leading rusher Sam Dressler to just 48 yards at that point in the game, Dressler took over the game as he went for 10 and five yards and then broke loose down the right sideline for a 49-yard gain to set up Danville at the Athens 21. Three plays later, Dressler broke loose again, this time down the middle for a 15-yard scoring run and the Ironmen took the lead with a made PAT.
"They found a bit of a leverage spot on us and we were trying to adjust to it and just couldn't get the play made," said Young. "He (Dressler) is a tough runner, we saw that on film but in the end, that's what beat us, that and a couple of other mistakes."
Athens would have two chances to drive for the potential game-winning score, but Stivason was picked off for the second time in the game by Rice on Athens' next drive as he hauled in a deep pass, which Athens was unable to hit all night. The Wildcats would get the ball back once more with 1:38 remaining but were unable to do anything in four downs after being pinned back at their own 18.
Birdsall finished with 86 yards on the ground in addition to his two touchdowns to cap an outstanding senior season, while Stivason finished with 69 passing yards. Athens also held Danville to just eight first downs in addition to the Wildcats' three forced turnovers.