DANVILLE - Justin Van Fleet stood in the middle of Danville's football field, one of two people remaining on the grass surface, and spoke with tears welling in his eyes. He offered his apologies for not getting a Loyalsock program turned around quickly enough for this year's seniors to enjoy the pinnacle he helps build the program to.
That Loyalsock was even playing in a District 4 playoff game last night, though, was a huge step forward from where the Lancer program was a year ago. So as much as last night's 31-6 loss to Danville in the first round of the Class AA playoffs hurt, it was a positive step for a program which won just one game a year ago.
The Lancers played Friday night without quarterback/safety Kyle Datres, who injured his ankle on a late-game extra point attempt against Montoursville last week. In his place Ryan Bogaczyk played more than admirably, leading the Lancers to a touchdown the game's first drive, but it was the Lancers' lone score.
Steve Harrison of Loyalsock advances a punt fumble for a first down Friday night at Danville. Marcus WIlt?(68) tries for the tackle.
"Based on what we were coming off of last year, to come around and show people that we were not as bad as last year and that we're a hell of a team right now, that's great," Bogaczyk said. "I would call it a successful year, but not as successful as we had planned. Every year we plan on winning a district championship. That's become the motto at Loyalsock."
The reality is that a team which scored 60 points - which was more than last year's season total - just five weeks ago and looked as if it was ready to turn a corner, just couldn't overcome the injuries which have plagued it in the last four weeks. Datres was the latest in the line of injuries that saw Bobby Oeler, Jimmy Webb and Jake Glavin all miss the end of the season with various injuries.
And last night the physical defensive presence of Oeler, and the ability of Datres to cover the whole field were sorely missed as Danville ran for 172 yards in the second half. On top of that, the Ironmen averaged just over nine plays per drive on their three second-half scoring drives.
"I think in a lot of areas we certainly could have used some of the kids (who are injured), but the kids who were in there were fighting their tails off and I don't want to take away from what they did," Van Fleet said. "I just need to do a better job and put the kids in better positions to make plays, and I'll do that."
The second-half surge for Danville came after a first half in which it ran just 17 plays. Comparatively, Loyalsock ran 31 plays in the first half even as the Ironmen built a 14-6 lead.
Danville put the offense on the shoulders of fullback Sam Dressler. The junior had just six carries for 29 yards in the first half, but on the first drive of the second half alone he had eight carries for 56 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run that pushed the Ironmen's lead to two scores at 21-6.
"We told the kids we had 14 points on the board and had only ran 17 plays. The defense has to be able to get us off the field. We couldn't get off the field on third down," Danville head coach Jim Kaiser said. "We did a better job in the second half. The stuff we hit was stuff we thought we had."
"We weren't able to stop them from running their backside iso and their front-side power," Van Fleet said. "They were able to get chunks of yards on it and drive the ball down the field with 10-play drives and such."
Loyalsock came up with the first score of the game thanks to a big 40-yard, third-down completion from Bogaczyk to Phil Krizan. The 65-yard drive ended with an Ethan Moore 1-yard touchdown run. But the Lancers struggled to keep the momentum.
Zack Kozick responded with a 38-yard touchdown run for Danville, and Bret Berg added a 62-yard punt return for touchdown to give the Ironmen its 14-6 halftime lead.
"To get one really early it really boosted our confidence, but then a couple things didn't go our way," Bogaczyk said. "They got a nice touchdown and a crazy punt return and that shot us down and we were really down after that and we just couldn't pick it up after that."