DANVILLE — The Danville Blue Devils are doing something this week that they haven’t done in four years. They’re practicing for a playoff game.
The Blue Devils (7-3) hit their home field on Saturday to host Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans in a Division VI regional quarterfinal game.
The two foes are familiar with one another. It’s impossible to break down the upcoming game without looking at their Week 2 matchup, which Danville won, 18-0. In that contest, Danville held Rosecrans to 114 yards on 44 plays.
“Our defense came ready to play,” recalled Danville head coach Ed Honabarger. “We shut down their run and forced them to pass. That’s not something they felt comfortable doing.”
It was early in the season, and Honabarger was still experimenting on offense. Heath Buckingham, the area rushing leader, had just 19 carries for 95 yards. Instead, the team spread the wealth. Quinton Ferenbaugh rushed for 72 yards on nine carries, and Cade Mickley had 63 yards on eight carries. With Buckingham back to being 100 percent healthy, the Bishops might expect a lot more of him up the middle.
Likewise, Rosecrans bases its offense around a bruising rusher. Luke Lloyd has racked up 1,300 yards this season with his ability to bust through tight spots up front. Fullback Hunter Lepi has developed throughout the year, giving the Bishops a powerful 1-2 punch.
The Blue Devils are more dangerous in the air than their opponents. Marcus Durbin (67-for-135, 884 yards, eight touchdowns) finished second in the area in pass efficiency. He’s especially dangerous once the running game starts moving, and the defense is forced to bring extra help to the line.
The Bishops’ starting quarterback, Zack Hill, is more dangerous with his feet than with his arm. He has rushed almost as many times as thrown. However, as Danville proved in their previous meeting, Rosecrans can’t win a game with passing.
That’s why it will be important to win the battle at the line. Danville did that on Week 2, pushing back Rosecrans’ run-stoppers and penetrating into the Bishops’ backfield more frequently as the game went on.
“This is their second year in the same system,” said Honabarger of his linemen, “so they’re more comfortable with what they’re doing. They’re able to make adjustments on the fly with each other, rather than wait for halftime.”
The line should be well-rested and healthy, with plenty of experience.
“Josh Bratton missed five games when he had knee surgery,” Honabarger explained. “In that time, we were able to get other kids in there, get them experiences. Now that Josh is back, we have six or seven guys that can all do the job. We can bring any of them out to rest, and the others can stay in.”
Rosecrans (6-4) has been to the playoffs in three of the past four years. However, the Bishops have never won a regional playoff game. The difference in playoff experience does not worry Honabarger.
“It’s important, but I don’t know how much it can help them (Rosecrans),” said Honabarger. “Their seniors were freshmen and sophomores when they were in the playoffs, and I don’t know how much they contributed.”
The rematch notwithstanding, the Blue Devils had been hoping to start their run at a Regional championship at home. Getting the final win against East Knox, which sealed the deal, was the most important win for the program in years.
“It’s great to be able to play in front of the home crowd,” said Honabarger. “Some of these schools are traveling four-plus hours. We didn’t want to be in that situation. And there’s a certain comfort level playing at home, which is what most teams should have.
“These guys want to win playoff games. They aren’t in it just to say they were in the playoffs. They want to be more than just a playoff team. They want to win and see how far they can go.”
The journey begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday.