DANVILLE - The football sat spinning on the cold grass in front of the Montoursville sideline, and a trio of Danville players were beating down on it. The 11 Warriors on the kickoff return team were helpless as they watched and hoped the ball would find a way across the sideline and result in a penalty.
The ball's point, however, dug into the turf and a crashing Danville player circled the opening kickoff and the official pointed Ironmen ball.
A week after surrendering a 16-point lead to Lewisburg, Montoursville was left in shock again just seconds into its game on Friday night. Danville perfectly executed an onsides kick and three plays later, the Ironmen reached the end zone. Less than 4 minutes later, they were there again. The shockwave finally subsided a bit, but the Warriors never fully recovered and dropped an important game against another District 4 Class AA playoff contender, 21-7.
"I saw it Sunday on film and I said we are going for it," said Danville coach Jim Keiser. "I told the kids in the locker room that we were onsides kicking on Friday night and we were going to get it."
Keiser never wavered throughout the week, although the Ironmen had limited practice time with their kicker. Shayne Riley, who also plays soccer for the Ironmen, had a full week of games scheduled and didn't get an opportunity to work on the kick until Friday night. Riley didn't feel comfortable about executing the kick leading up to Friday's 7 p.m. kickoff, but Keiser had him behind the Danville field house perfecting the kick out of the way of any curious bystanders.
When it was time to let the secret out, Riley struck the ball with his right foot, lofted it a little bit and dropped it along the Montoursville sideline as his teammates rushed toward the ball and the Montoursville front line dropped to prepare to block for a return.
"You are either a hero or a goat when you do that," said Keiser.
The Ironmen (6-1) made their coach a hero with the recovery and three Sam Dressler runs and 49 seconds later, the Ironmen led 7-0. Dressler opened with a 27-yard run around left end and after being shut down at the line of scrimmage, he took his third carry to the right sideline for a 16-yard touchdown.
"Right off the bat at the beginning of the game it's, dog darn it. I wished it wouldn't have happened," said Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer on the onsides kick, "but when it happens that early you have no idea how it's going to play out. I think it got their offense a little rhythm and kind of got momentum their way."
A quick three and out gave the Ironmen the ball right back and quarterback Weston Baylor found an uncovered Bret Berg down the Montoursville sideline for an easy 65-yard pitch and catch.
Danville sputtered over its next two possessions, but put together a 15-play, 83-yard drive before the half to extend its lead to 21-0. Baylor finished the march with a 3-yard pass to Cale Rice.
Baylor finished with just four completions, but two went for touchdowns.
Montoursville's offense didn't have any gaudy numbers in the first half, but it reached the red zone twice. The Warriors (4-3) reached the Danville 5 on their second possession and the Danville 14 on their fourth possession, but were turned away on downs both times.
"Our offense was able to move the ball, but when we got to the red zone we stalled out," said Keefer, "and that can't happen."
The Warriors remained stuck on a goose egg following their first two drives in the second half, but finally broke through late in the third quarter when Griffin Dunne found Alex Erb on a 13-yard touchdown pass. Erb shielded his defender and still caught the ball with a corner draped on his back to cut the deficit to 21-7.
Danville didn't score in the second half, but kept the ball long enough to erase precious time off the clock.The Ironmen had a 12-play drive after Montoursville scored its only touchdown and closed out the final 4:23 of the game after the Warriors turned the ball over on downs after crossing midfield.
Dressler and Isaiah Croll made sure the Warriors had limited time to mount a comeback. The running backs combined for 45 carries and 262 yards.
"Those two guys were awesome tonight and so was the offensive line," said Keiser.
Danville finished with over 300 yards rushing and its offense ran 65 plays, minus punts.
Dressler carried 27 times and finished with 149 yards. Both he and Croll accounted for several tough yards after initial contact as the Warriors struggled to bring down the hard-nosed runners. Keefer said the Warriors had been tackling well all season and struggled to come up with a reason for the extra yards his defense allowed last night.
"We were in position to make plays but we didn't tackle well," said Keefer.
Some credit deserved to go to the effort put forth by Dressler and Croll and maybe some resulted from the Warriors being a little tired after a grueling stretch of games that included other District 4 Class AA playoff contenders Mount Carmel and Lewisburg.
Dunne led Montoursville's running game with 79 yards on 11 carries from the quarterback position. Clay Stoner was held 58 yards on 13 carries. Thirty-two of those yards came on a pair of rushes.
Montoursville returns to the gauntlet next week with a game against District 4 Class AAA playoff contender Milton.
"We're not done, yet," said Keefer. "We'll be OK. We're sitting at 4-3 and we're a long ways from being out of anything.
"As far as I'm concerned, if you get into the playoffs you are a district contender."