DANVILLE — Unfinished business.
That’s what will be on the players’ minds when the Danville Blue Devils (9-1) take the field at home on Friday to face the Hannibal River Pilots in the Division VI regional quarterfinals.
That’s because the Blue Devils have been here before — last year, in fact — when they faced Bishop Rosecrans in a game many believed would turn out well for the Danville faithful.
Instead, the Devils came up on the short end of a 34-7 drubbing.
“We practiced really well last year, but we played really tight once we got into that game,” Danville head coach Ed Honabarger recalled. “But there’s something to be said for being in the playoffs back-to-back years. It’s not all ‘Bright lights, big city.’ It’s really more along the lines of ‘Been there, done that.’”
Honabarger had the best Danville team in years when they lost that 2011 playoff game. No one was sure the 2012 version would be as good. But, Danville went on to beat everyone in the Mid-Buckeye Conference — including Division IV playoff-bound Johnstown and D-V Loudonville — by an average of 23 points. The team saw Bryce Staats take his first snaps as varsity quarterback and grow to become Knox County’s first 2K/1K player (2,000 yards passing and 1,000-yards rushing in the same season), making him a contender for Ohio’s D-VI Player of the Year. The team saw school passing and scoring records fall left and right. And it saw the defense actually improve on last season’s points allowed by nearly 2 per game.
“We’ve always preached that, if you work your butt off, good things will happen,” said Honabarger. “That’s what this group of kids has done. They’ve taken this chance and run with it to make their mark on Danville football. Especially the seniors.”
Hannibal River (7-3) runs what would be considered a more traditional offense for a Division VI school. The Pilots use the I-formation and the occasional shotgun. Their offensive pop comes from a 1-2 combination of backs: Nick Asturi, a power runner who has 1,017 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year; and Jordan Sapp, a quickster who put up 816 yards and eight scores. Quarterback Cody Caldwell is a roll-out passer who doesn’t run much, but averages 17 yards per completion. His favorite target is Kameron Brown, who lines up at wideout and tight end and has great hands.
But the power game is River’s strength. The question is, how will that line — which averages 194 pounds per player — fare against Danville? Especially when Dan Alden (208 pounds), Jamarcus Hershberger (235 pounds), Josh Bratton (242) and Andy Payne (263) are used to handling guys bigger than themselves.
“We need to get them into long-yardage situations,” said Honabarger. “(We need to) force them to pass when they don’t want to pass.”
The Pilots didn’t exactly stumble into the playoffs. They won their final four games by an average score of 37-12. However, of their seven wins in 2012, only one was against a team with a winning record — Week 1 against Fort Frye. River went 0-3 against all other winning teams, including a 31-7 loss at Rosecrans.
“We’re just going to try to take care of business,” said Honabarger. “It’s no different than Week 4 or Week 8. You’re just playing someone you’re not familiar with, so you put a little more time in the film room.”
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
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