Football preview: Loyalsock at Danville

Loyalsock PPG–34.1, YPG–400.4, PPA–21.0, YPA–260.3

Loyalsock facts: The Lancers are trying to win their first district championship, since capturing the 2009 Class AA crown. Loyalsock is also hoping to exact a measure of revenge against Danville after the Ironmen thumped it, 34-7 at Kenneth Robbins Stadium in last year’s district semifinals. Danville has won three straight playoff games against Loyalsock and the Lancers last playoff win against it came in that 2009 season. Loyalsock turned a 17-point halftime deficit into a 35-24 semifinal win against Lewisburg last week, scoring 28 third-quarter points to do so. The Lancers scored on all three offensive plays they ran that quarter and quarterback Connor Watkins also returned a quick kick 52 yards for the go-ahead score. Watkins threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns and is third among District 4 quarterbacks with 2,211 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also has run for a team-high nine scores. Running back Cole Cavanaugh is 10 yards from reaching 1,000 for a second straight year and Hunter Webb broke off a 90-yard third-quarter touchdown run against Lewisburg. Wide receiver Gerald Ross has caught 50 passes for 925 yards and a program record 13 touchdowns. Ross was injured on the final play of the first half last week and did not return. Sam Newton and Jacob Waltz made big plays in Ross’s absence, catching 73 and 74 yard touchddowns, respectively. The defense struggled in the first half, but adjusted well and played outstanding in the second half when it held Lewisburg scoreless. Webb made 17 tackles and Bam Bam Brima continues improving each week. Brima is becoming a force at defensive end and made a career-high 15 tackles last week. The 6-foot-7 junior also batted down two passes and helped slow down Lewisburg’s potent running game. Geno Ginoble and Carmen Barone also played well up front as did Brad Conroy. The secondary put the clamps on a dangerous passing game, allowing just five completions in 20 attempts. Waltz and Chase Waller have enjoyed breakout seasons and Waltz’s emergence has been key after standout safety Derek Gee was lost to a broken thumb at midseason.

Loyalsock player to watch–Sam Newton: The senior cornerback has established himself as one of the area’s best and provided lock-down coverage last week. Newton has a team-high four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and helps anchor the secondary. If Ross cannot play, Newton will be key in the passing game as well. The speedy receiver delivered a huge lift last week, catching a 73-yard touchdown that ignited the third-quarter explosion and showed how he can stretch the field.

Danville PPG–33.8, YPG–386.3, PPA–19.3, YPA–270.1

Danville facts: The Ironmen are playing in their fifth district final this decade and seeking their first championship since 2012. Danville downed Mifflinburg, 54-24 in the opening round as it continued pounding teams on the ground, running for 393 yards. Gannon Feldman has a shot at reaching 1,000 yards for a second straight year and has formed a potent tandem along with big-play running back Austin Millar (693 yards, 10 touchdowns). The Ironmen feature a strong and experienced offensive line and helped them run for 323 yards in last year’s playoff win at Loyalsock. Feldman ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in that win. Danville experienced a blow in Week 6 when it lost standout quarterback Peyton Riley to a season-ending injury, but his brother KJ Riley has played well down the stretch. The freshman quarterback threw two touchdowns last week and has five the past two weeks. Eric Sees caught three passes for 100 yards and a touchdown and has helped the passing game continue going after explosive receiver Peyton Persing was lost to injury. Danville features a hard-nosed and opportunistic defense. The Ironmen forced six turnovers last week and intercepted four passes. They are among the district leaders in forcing 30 turnovers and have intercepted 21 passes. The defensive line and linebackers are strong and have bottled up the run in each of Danville’s last three games while allowing 694 passing yards. Derien Yeager is one of the district’s best defensive lineman and has a team-high six sacks. He also returned an interception for a touchdown last week. Linebackers Ken Cooper and Jared Mowery also are excellent players and junior Preston Fausnaught had two sacks in the Loyalsock playoff win a year ago. Even Welliver has intercepted three passes and Danville has returned three punts and kicks for touchdowns.

Danville player to watch–Shane Kozick: The senior is a threat in all three facets and averages a touchdown nearly every two times he touches the football. Kozick has caught nine touchdowns, averaging 19.4 yards per catch and he has been Danville’s go-to guy since Persing was sidelined. Kozick also is an excellent defensive back who has a team-high six interceptions, including two last week. He also has returned a kickoff 84 yards for a score.

Outlook: A lot of tonight’s outcome will be determined up front. Danville often has controlled the line of scrimmage and has been good at imposing its will. If Loyalsock plays the way it did in the second half last week tonight then this looks like a heavyweight battle that could be determined in the final minutes. If it is a repeat of the first half, the Lancers could be in serious trouble.

Winner plays: District 2’s champion, either Scranton Prep or Lake-Lehman at a District 4 site

–by CHRIS MASSE

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