GAHANNA — They got their wish.
For the third time in just over 12 months, the Danville Blue Devil football team will take on Bishop Rosecrans. This time, it’s at Gahanna Lincoln High School — a neutral field — and a berth in the regional championship game is on the line. Like the first meeting, the winner will move on in the playoffs, while the loser goes home.
The Blue Devils dropped the two previous meetings, letting games slip away in the second half and failing to come up with a rally.
So the question is, will the third time be a charm for Danville? Or will history repeat itself once again?
“There’s a definite feeling of revenge deep down,” said Danville senior Jamarcus Hershberger, who plays on both sides of the line. “There’s a bad taste from the last loss. So we’re going to come out and smack them in the mouth and play Danville football.”
For the most part, Danville head coach Ed Honabarger would not acknowledge that revenge plays a factor in Friday’s regional semifinal. But the players have it on their minds — it’s something they’ve carried since Week 2, when Rosecrans shocked Danville, 21-7.
That game was in Zanesville. This time, there will be no home field advantage.
“Getting a chance to be in the second round of the playoffs, to win and move on, that’s a lot of motivation,” said Honabarger. “It’s do or die. To heck with revenge. Let’s just get out there and take care of business.”
Danville (10-1) took early control of their Week 2 matchup by scoring first on a long drive highlighted by a Bryce Staats touchdown pass to Kyle Shultz. However, the Devils would not score again, plagued by dropped passes and offensive penalties at the worst times. Instead, Rosecrans scored three unanswered touchdowns, including two on long running plays in the final quarter by the Bishops’ top two rushers, Luke Lloyd and Chase Lanning.
Now, Lloyd and Lanning are both injured.
“We can look back at mistakes we made, and ways we can be better both offensively and defensively,” said Honabarger. “But, that was 10 weeks ago. We’ve improved, and so have they. They’re a bit different now. So, watching that film to study their offense isn’t really going to help us.”
Now, Rosecrans (8-3) relies more on the arm of sophomore quarterback Adrick Cronin, as well as the solid offensive line to protect him. In last week’s 26-3 victory in the regional quarterfinals, Cronin lit up Willow Wood Symmes Valley for 168 yards on 16-for-20 passing with three touchdowns. Two went to Thomas Thacher, who has emerged as a threat in the clutch. Ben Baldwin has been utilized more as a receiver as well in the Bishops’ improvisational wide-open offense.
Last week, Danville took a while to get its spread offense going, as the team was hounded by turnovers. Once the first touchdown was scored on a bad handle by Hannibal River’s punter — resulting in a recovery in the endzone by Hershberger — the Devils began to click. Staats went 19-for-24 for 215 yards and three touchdowns in Danville’s 30-6 win. Corey Geog and Cade Mickley each caught six passes.
“These kids have been pretty even-keeled. Nothing really seems to phase them,” said Honabarger. “In the games in which we’ve dropped behind, they keep chugging along and keep playing. They don’t panic.”
Rosecrans earned its first playoff win in history last season when it upset the Blue Devils, 34-7, on Danville’s home field. For over a year, the returning Blue Devil players have had to dwell on that loss, thinking about what might have been and dreaming about another shot at the Bishops.
On Friday at 7:30 p.m., the dreaming will end, and the rematch will be reality.
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