Admirals head back to state semifinal with win at LCA
Published 2:14 am Saturday, November 19, 2016
LEXINGTON — After playing two straight playoff games on the road — totaling around six hours of bus rides — the Danville football team gets to play its next game at home.
That’s right, the Admirals have at least one more game on their schedule.
The Ads held off Lexington Christian for a 34-28 win in Friday’s Class 2A region title for their second straight region championship. Now Danville heads into its seventh state semifinal in the last 15 years, hosting Covington Holy Cross at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
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Even before the Ads kicked off in Lexington, the game had the makings of an instant classic. It was the fourth time in two years the programs had met and second-straight meeting in the region final. The last time they played, LCA rallied for a 42-40 win after trailing by 19 points at halftime during this regular season.
The two fan bases also got the memo, with both sets of stands completely full and a ring of spectators at least five deep standing on the track on the Danville side of the field, helping create an atmosphere a game of this magnitude deserved.
The Eagles (12-1) started the game much as they finished the last one against Danville, marching down the field and facing third down and goal from the 4-yard line. But when quarterback Brayden Miller threw to the left, Danville defensive back Dmauriae VanCleave made the first of his many big plays in the game, picking off a screen pass and showing his incredible speed for a 97-yard return for a score.
“I was thinking tackle first, but I saw the ball in the air and I knew we just had to score first on them,” VanCleave said. “I guess I thought I was in the 100-yard dash.”
In practice during the week, VanCleave picked off Zach Dampier on a screen pass and told him, “If they do that in the game, it’s going to be a touchdown,” according to the quarterback.
“He lived up to it,” Dampier said. “As long as he keeps talking trash to me and does it, I don’t care.”
The Eagles didn’t roll over, tying the game a little more than three minutes later. And again, it was VanCleave’s time to shine, returning the kickoff 99 yards, 2 feet for the score.
Seven minutes, 18 seconds into the game, and the Ads held a 14-7 lead without even taking an offensive snap.
“I’m thinking as long as he scores, I don’t care if I get a snap on offense,” Dampier said.
The Eagles tied the game late in the first half on a Dillon Wheatley 20-yard run, and the score would stay knotted at halftime. Wheatley rushed for 163 yards on the night, and Miller threw for 290 as the Eagles totaled 475 yards.
“I don’t think we stopped them, but we limited their big plays,” Danville coach Clay Clevenger said.
However, the Ads would put the game out of reach on its first two drives after the break. Showing a good balance between rushing and passing, Danville drove 80 yards in nine plays and took a 21-14 lead on a 9-yard pass from Dampier to Donlevy Harris.
Then on the fourth play of LCA’s drive, Chase Tandy recovered a fumble near midfield to set up the Ads on offense. This drive also ended with a Dampier TD pass as he lofted a jump ball to David Walker, and the junior came down with the ball in between two defenders for a 28-14 lead.
Including stops on fourth down and stuffing a fake punt, the Ads came away with five turnovers on the night, scoring on the interception and after Tandy’s fumble recovery.
“I tell our guys, ‘Every time you make an offense snap the ball, there’s a chance for them to make a mistake,’” Clevenger said.
“They probably had a lot of yards, they went up and down the field on us, but we made some plays as well.”
LCA regained some hope early in the fourth quarter with a drive powered on the arm of Miller, who completed four passes for 60 yards to pull his team within 28-21.
But the Ads weren’t to be outdone. On the third play of their next drive, Dampier hit Ellison Stanfield on a short route on the home sideline, and the senior wideout did the rest, going 79 yards for the 34-21 lead.
“We just kept making plays in the second half,” Clevenger said. “They would score, we would answer.”
Dampier continued his march through the record books, completing 18-of-26 passes for 278 yards and three scores. VanCleave and Stanfield each caught for 115 yards, and Walker had two grabs for 34 yards.
“We’ve been around each other for a long time, and I know they’re great athletes,” Dampier said of his receivers.
The Eagles final score came with 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining and proved to be too late when Keshawn Railley recovered the onside kick. Two kneel downs and 68 seconds later, the Ads were celebrating a return trip to the state semifinal.
“This is just fun, this was the essence of competition tonight,” Clevenger said. “There was a lot of good hits. It was a good, clean football game. This time, we were just fortunate to make a couple more plays.”
And just like that, the Ads were off to their second straight state semifinal appearance, a feat they haven’t accomplished in a dozen years. Last year, the Ads lost at Newport Central Catholic; it’s a feeling VanCleave doesn’t want to experience again.
“Everytime I think about semi-state, I think about last year, and it makes me want to go harder, every play, every practice, every workout,” VanCleave said.
Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn