JERSEY SHORE - After completing the first half of the season unbeaten, the Danville Ironmen got the second half off to a solid start Friday night at Thompson Street Stadium.
Getting off to a quick start, the Ironmen built up a 17-0 lead before prevailing 24-7 over Jersey Shore in a Heartland Conference football battle.
"I just told our kids, hey, keep your heads up because you just played a really good football team," said Shore head coach Tom Gravish. "I told them that we (coaches) are disappointed that we lost, but we also made it clear that we aren't giving up on them because we think you are an extra special group of guys and we are only going to get better."
Danville wasted no time at all asserting itself as the Ironmen scored on their first two possessions.
The Ironmen returned the opening kickoff to midfield, and from there, it only took them six plays to move the 50 yards, with quarterback Weston Baylor scooting around his own left for the final 20 yards and the touchdown. Shayne Riley kicked his first of three PATs and less than three minutes in to the game, Danville led for good at 7-0.
The Bulldog defense showed signs of stiffening on the second Danville possession as it held the Ironmen short of the sticks on the Shore 16. Riley, one of the better kickers in the area, drilled a 34-yard field goal with just 15 ticks of the clock left before the first turn for a 10-0 Danville lead.
"He (Riley) is a pretty special kid and we are very fortunate to have him," said Danville head coach Jim Keiser. "That helps our kicking game, but we didn't cover as well tonight as we would have liked. He kicked some deep balls, but he also showed his versatility when he kicked the onside kick. We rarely see him other than on Friday night's because he has soccer practice. He just gives us a great weapon."
Following a Danville defensive stand and a pair of punts, the Ironmen went up 17-0 after taking over on their own 30.
Sam Dressler ripped off 32 yards, Isaiah Croll picked up three and on the third play of the possession, quarterback Baylor found Evan Turner all alone behind the Shore secondary for a 38-yard TD connection. Riley made it 17-0 with his conversion.
Dressler finished with 118 yards on 13 carries before he left the game for good following his first carry of the second half with an ankle injury. With Dressler missing from the Danville backfield, Croll took took over to finish with 97 yards and one touchdown.
"They made some adjustments on us at halftime and then we lost Sam (Dressler)," said Keiser. "Sam is such a big part of our football team, but Isaiah (Croll) stepped up and really did a great job."
Gravish was also quick to point out that the tandem of Dressler and Croll put a lot of pressure on the Bulldog defensive unit.
"They have a great tandem with those two backs," he said. "They are as good a 1-2 punch in the backfield that I have seen in a long time and I really mean that. Their offensive line gives their guys a chance to run the ball even when there isn't great blocking. They never get blown up too bad on any one play and coach Keiser does a great job with them."
The defensive units for both teams took over control of the game in a scoreless third period before Shore took over on its own 13-yard line at the turn for home.
From there, the Bulldogs put together an 87-yard, 15-play drive, culminated by a 1-yard plunge to paydirt by Utoa Agae-Naipo. Agae-Naipo finished with 45 yards on 19 carries against the stingy Danville defense.
"They fought hard and made some key plays," said Gravish. "That was just a great drive for us because there were some other times where we couldn't do much at all. I would like to get us a few more seconds to throw the football where the plays work as we design them. We have to work harder on our protection to eliminate those big sacks in key situations."
Bulldog quarterback Logan English finished with 135 yards on 10 completions, but was sacked seven times while also throwing two interceptions.
With the Bulldogs still hanging around and very much in the game facing the 10-point deficit (7-17), the Ironmen sealed the deal when Croll carried the mail four straight times, picking up 41 yards and the game's final score. On the drive, the Ironmen were aided by a 15-yard penalty call against the Bulldogs.
Now 6-0, Danville will travel to Montoursville Friday for a battle between two unbeatens in a HAC showdown. Shore, after a trip to Syracuse to watch the Orange battle Clemson, will travel to Sunbury for a conference matchup with the Shikellamy Braves.