Danville marches into second round with blowout win
The punt bounced well in front of Dmauriae VanCleave, prompting the Danville sidelines to yell, “Peter! Peter!” to clear the players away from the ball.
But VanCleave had other ideas. The junior fielded the ball off the hop, cut right across the Allen Central coverage team and sped his way up the home sideline for a 55-yard touchdown return in the opening stages of the second half.
It was that type of Friday night for the Admirals when little went wrong in a 51-6 win over the Rebels in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs at Admiral Stadium.
“The first one they called back, so I really wanted another one,” VanCleave said, referencing another return for a TD called back in the second quarter. “I knew my teammates were going to block for me. When I go back deep, we already know what we’re going to do.”
When asked about the return, Ads coach Clay Clevenger smiled.
“I trust him to catch the bounce,” Clevenger said. “We’ve got to get him the confidence to catch it in the air; he likes to wait and catch it on the bounce. He’s come a long way as a punt returner this year. Obviously, when he gets the ball he’s great, but as far as fielding the ball and confidence to do that, it just gives you another weapon.”
VanCleave totaled 134 yards on offense, rushing for 21 yards and catching four balls for 113 yards, including a 60-yard scoring reception in the second quarter.
“It’s instinct and we get taught if we’re going through traffic, we have to square up our shoulders and keep it low and run hard,” VanCleave said. “When I see grass, that’s when I get elusive.”
The Ads offense totaled 378 yards, averaging nearly 9 1/2 yards per play. Zach Dampier threw for 213 yards with a pair of TDs — giving him 88 for his career — while Donlevy Harris rushed for 47 yards and scored twice.
Next up for Danville is a road trip to Leslie County at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Eagles beat Middlesboro 44-26 in the first round.
The game turned into a rout early, with Danville finding the end zone 32 seconds into the game. Dampier found Ellison Stanfield on the right and the receiver did the rest, going for a 20-yard score and a quick 8-0 lead.
After Keshawn Railley picked up a Rebels fumble on their first drive, Harris scored the first of his touchdowns on the fifth play of a 22-yard drive, and the Ads were up 15-0 less than four minutes into the game.
“We’ve been in more four-quarter football games this year than we were last year, and last year, I thought it hurt us in the semis,” Clevenger said of the loss to Newport Central Catholic in the state semifinal. “At this point, it’s like let’s get onto the next one and be as healthy as you can.”
The tenor the game got chippy, with the officials calling offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on both teams twice, along with three other 15-yard penalties. But after an extended discussion among the referees and each coach, the players settled down.
“It felt like we had an opportunity to win this game and you don’t want to take a chance of a kid getting ejected and having to sit next week,” Clevenger said. “Both teams settled down after that. We didn’t have much of that after that point, and that’s good because you don’t want to see that type of stuff in this atmosphere.”
The next Rebels drive stopped on a Stanfield interception, but Danville couldn’t capitalize. However, Jaleel Warren came away with a fumble recovery on the next Central drive, and Harris scored again. The junior rushed three times for 26 yards on the short drive.
The Rebels (8-3) punted on their next three drives, and the Ads went to work getting the running clock started. Dampier hit VanCleave on a short pass that turned into an electric 60-yard reception for a 29-0 lead. Then Dampier showed some wheels, making players miss on his way to a 20-yard TD rush and a 36-0 lead with 5 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the half.
Coming out of halftime, Clevenger said the plan was to have the first team play one series on offense and defense. VanCleave’s return put that notion to bed.
”It’s like, All right, offense doesn’t get that extra series there,” Clevenger said.
The Ads scored twice in the second half. In addition to VanCleave’s punt return, Zach Thornton hit Tanner Ford on a 16-yard TD pass early in the fourth.
“Coach Clev teaches us not to get a big head and not to get cocky,” VanCleave said. “No matter, who we’re playing with, how good or bad they are, we’ve got to keep the same focus throughout the game.”
Central’s Koby Stone returned the kickoff for the Rebels only points of the game, but Danville held onto the ball over the last six minutes of the game on strong running from Darian Logan and Jesse Matthews.
With next week’s game against a Leslie team on a seven-game winning streak, expectations are for it not to be as easy. According to Clevenger and Van Cleave, they weren’t expecting Friday’s win to be as easy as it was.
But with the speed and talent the Ads boast, they can quickly start rolling that snowball downhill and bury their opponent.
“I feel like if we execute and we play teams who haven’t seen our speed, we can jump out on people,” Clevenger said.
Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn