HOWARD — It’s a matter of respectability. Not just in the area, but in one’s own backyard.
East Knox High School
These two schools have been going head-to-head on the gridiron since 1960, with the Blue Devils, who have won ten of the last eleven meetings, leading the series 32-20. There has been one tie.
For half a century, the Devil-Dog game has meant exciting football, rivalry and reunion. Winning the Devil-Dog game is a prize that can put the crowning glory on a winning season or the redemption of a not-so-glorious year.
For those who are lucky enough to be a Blue Devil or a Bulldog it is the guarantee that, no matter what, your football season will end on an exciting note. Even this week’s heavy rains couldn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.
“We got out there,” said East Knox coach Calvin Hatfield. “It was a little wet and a little sloppy, but we were able to practice.”
“We’re just trying to practice and trying to get better,” said Danville coach Ed Honabarger. “We’re using the extra day we have this week to focus, get more reps against what East Knox does since they are doing something different than they did in the past 49 years.”
No matter what year it is, the Devil-Dog game is filled with excitement.
“There’s a lot of meaningful impact about a Week 10 victory over your rival,” said Honabarger. “We just try to make it business as usual. We tell the kids, ‘Don’t get caught up in all the other activity that goes on. That’s for everybody else. We just need to concentrate on football.’”
“This game is more important than any old game,” said Hatfield. “It’s the last game of the year against a huge rival. We would like to send our seniors out in a good way. No matter the year, this is going to be a big game. The Devil-Dog game means a lot to a lot of different people from a lot of different years.”
It’s been an up and down season for the East Knox Bulldogs (3-6, 3-3 MBC) and the Danville Blue Devils (5-4, 2-4), but both teams have something to fight for in the season finale. That is, if winning the golden anniversary edition of the Devil-Dog game wasn’t enough motivation.
“We came in here and we set our goals a little higher, but we are where we are right now,” said Hatfield. “We feel that we have had a competitive year. We would have liked to have done better, but we competed the whole way through.”
The Blue Devils, with a win, can finish the season 6-4, overall, and tied with the Bulldogs in league play. With the better overall record, the Blue Devils would have this year’s bragging rights along the Kokosing Gap.
“For either team, it’s a good step in the right direction to carry into the offseason,” said Honabarger. “It would help us look forward to next year.”
The host Bulldogs can finish the season in a likely tie for second, and a league record a game above .500 with a victory. Many didn’t think that the rebuilding Bulldogs would be talking about second place in the final week of the season. Big wins against Utica and Centerburg, earlier in the season helped to get them this far.
“We had no idea what would happen,” said Hatfield. “It was the first year in a new system, breaking a lot of guys into some different rules. Am I pleased with how everything went? No? Am I proud of our guys? Absolutely.”
Hatfield hopes that his Bulldogs can pull off another victory this Saturday against the Devils.
“We are hoping to go out there and put something all together,” said Hatfield. “This year, we’ve played well in spots. The big play has been good for us but we haven’t been able to consistently execute on offense. We’re hoping to put a good game together to finish the season out.”
This won’t be easy, especially with East Knox’s leading rusher, Chase Cottrell, out for the game due to injury. Even so, the Bulldogs are loaded with speed. Danville’s defense must be careful not to get burned.
“We have to eliminate the big play,” said Honabarger. “We have to try to keep them from going vertical on us. Any team that throws a lot, you’ve got to get some pressure on them. You’re going to have to defend well. Your DBs are going to have to make some plays somewhere at some point in the game.”
“Obviously Khai (Haralson, East Knox receiver) and Dakota (Anderson, East Knox receiver) are two very fast, very explosive kids. Devin Faucett has made a bunch of big plays for us.”
Expect Danville, though missing its top running back Heath Buckingham, will come right at the Bulldogs with a powerful ground game.
“Heath couldn’t push off that leg,” said Honabarger. “We’ll use (running backs) Kodey Ball and Joey Gonzales. We’ll use a committee of people. We’ll try to do whatever the defense gives us.”
“If you look at us on defense our speed has helped us out a lot,” said Hatfield. “We have some fast guys, who are able to cover the field. If we make a mistake, we are able to cover it up some with the athletic ability we have. There’s not mystery that (Danville) is going to try to come out and run the ball. They are a physical team and a tough team and they are going to try to pound us. We’ve got to be ready for that challenge.”