DANVILLE — The 2009 Devil-Dog game turned into a tale of two halves on Saturday night. The East Knox Bulldogs controlled the first half, but the host Danville Blue Devils won the second.
Danville used two second-half Heath Buckingham touchdowns to defeat the rival Bulldogs, 12-7, and claim the Devil-Dog Trophy for another year. The win is Danville’s fourth in a row and ninth in the last 10.
“This just shows how much we wanted it; it was a great win,” said Danville coach Charlie Duncan. “We were down 7-0, and we knew it was going to be a physical game because all East Knox-Danville games are. In that second half, we battled back and showed that if we work our tail off, good things will happen. We had some guys step up in that second half.”
In a sloppy contest featuring seven fumbles, one interception and 23 penalties accounting for 216 yards, East Knox looked strong coming out of the gate. The Bulldogs controlled the clock for much of the first quarter, but came away with nothing to show for it. On their second drive of the game, the Bulldogs moved the ball to the Danville 23-yard line before Colton Tucker took a hand-off on the fifth play from scrimmage. Tucker rushed 18 yards to the 5 before the ball was stripped. Danville’s Marcus Magers recovered to stop the scoring threat.
“Our kids played hard the entire game,” said East Knox coach Tom Holton. “We had the fumble down deep, and we told them to keep their heads up and keep playing. They kept going after it. The bottom line, it came down to turnovers. We turned the ball over too many times.”
Danville was unable to do much with it, however, and punted it away four plays later. A short 29-yard punt from the Danville 7 gave East Knox great field position after a short return. Starting at the 29-yard line, East Knox took five plays to reach the end zone. A 1-yard run by Devin Wears capped the drive, which left six points on the scoreboard. Tyler Berger’s kick made it a 7-0 game with 9:10 to go in the second quarter.
The teams then traded possessions to finish out the half.
“Penalties were a big problem,” said Duncan. “We were moving the ball, but we would move the ball, get a 5-yard gain and then the next play we would get a 10-yard penalty. That kind of erased everything we were doing. We told them we had to eliminate the penalties.”
The Blue Devils came out of the halftime break with the ball and a full head of steam. They put together a 13-play, 77-yard drive that took up the first 5:41 of the third quarter. Buckingham capped the drive with his first touchdown of the night — a 1-yard run — but the kick failed, leaving East Knox clinging to a one-point lead, 7-6.
“I challenged the defensive line to get the push on the offensive line because we didn’t do that in the first half,” Duncan said. “We had to play in their backfield and get to the ball. We had some seniors step up, and defensively, we did our assignments a little better. Offensively, again, we challenged our guys up front to start blocking better. When that happened, we started passing the ball better.”
East Knox had trouble holding onto the football, however, fumbling its next two possessions away. Casey Sloan recovered both for Danville, including the second one at the 21-yard line. Marcus Durbin quickly found Cody Sloan open for a 14-yard gain to the 7, and following a short loss, Buckingham broke through from 9 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. The kick failed, leaving Danville on top, 12-7.
“They were doing a better job of blocking us up front,” said Holton. “Our defensive linemen weren’t making as many plays. I thought our linebackers were in the right place, but we were over-running the play, and you can’t take away from Danville. They did a nice job in the second half.”
Penalties, sacks and an interception by Chris Liptak haunted East Knox for the remainder of the game, though the Bulldogs did make one final push in the closing minutes. They put together a 12-play drive, starting with 6:55 to go, and moved the ball all the way down to the 29-yard line. A sack of Tyler Clement by Cody Sloan, however, stalled the drive and set up a fourth-and-11 play. Going for it, the pass missed its target and turned the ball back over to Danville, who kneeled on it to close out the contest.
“I thought we were going to take it down and score to win the game,” said Holton. “This is disappointing, but I talked with our seniors earlier this week and I told them, ‘When you go into a game, one of two things is going to happen. Somebody’s going to win the game and somebody’s going to lose the game. Everybody knows that. You are either going to be happy or you’re going to be sad.’ They are disappointed. We came over here thinking we were going to win the football game, but that didn’t happen tonight.”
Duncan was very pleased with the way his defense responded down the stretch, playing every second and every minute of the final quarter.
“I felt very comfortable with the way we were playing, but by no means did I think the game was out of reach,” Duncan said. “They are a good football team. They’ve had some struggles, but we knew they were dangerous. They can move the ball, so we knew we had to play defense. We got that last stop, which was important.”