H.S. Football preview: Danville at Loyalsock

Danville PPG–41; YPG–385; PPA–7; YPA–229

Danville facts: The Ironmen have lost in the last two District 4 Class AAA championships, including last year against Loyalsock. They lost a strong core from last year’s nine-win team, again look like a strong title contender. Danville made a nice statement, pounding defending HAC-I champion Shikellamy, 41-7. Injuries decimated Danville at quarterback last year and 2017 starter Peyton Riley was lost by midseason. He is now playing wide receiver and his brother Kayden is the team’s full-time starter. Kayden played as a freshman last season and looks like he could be one of the district’s breakthrough players. Kayden completed 16 of 19 passes for 185 yards against Shikellamy, finding his brother and Peyton Persing for touchdowns. The ability to put an athlete like Peyton outwide and Kayden’s development makes for what could be a more dynamic offense than in year’s past. So too, does having an experienced and explosive receiver like Shane Kozick who caught a district-best 10 passes for 107 yards last week. Danville has been a run-heavy team throughout the decade but that might be changing now. Nobody carried the ball more than eight times last week, although the game being a blowout played a role as well. Persing, Austin Millar and Joey Harris all are dangerous running backs and give Danville plenty of options. Danville’s defense lost a lot from last year but that unit looked strong as well. The Ironmen stifled Shikellamy throughout the game and also forced three turnovers. The Ironmen and Loyalsock have met in two consecutive postseasons and the road team has won each time.

Danville player to watch–Peyton Persing: The versatile senior is a big-play threat who can do damage in all areas. He scored touchdowns three different ways last week as a rusher, receiver and returner. Persing set the tone with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and returned both a kickoff and punt for scores last season.

Loyalsock PPG–21; YPG–334; PPA–42; YPA–470

Loyalsock facts: The defending district champions are shaking off an opening-night loss for a third straight season, but have rebounded the past two years with big wins. Loyalsock went to Danville and captured its first district title since 2009 last November when it beat Danville, 35-6. The Lancers allowed just 173 yards in that game and forced four turnovers. That defense lost some excellent players and Loyalsock struggled against District 11 power North Schuylkill, surrendering 454 rushing yards in a 42-21 loss. Loyalsock displayed an explosive passing game but North Schuylkill’s ability to control the clock often kept that offense on the sideline. Pittsburgh-bound defensive end Bam Brima made an impact and had 12 tackles while Camern Barone made three tackles for loss. The Lancers, though, need stronger contributions from some of their first-time starters if they hope to make that unit performance a mirage. Loyalsock also struggled to run the ball, although it also was down double digits for most of the game and had to abandon the run throughout the second half to try and come back. All-state quarterback Connor Watkins threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns. The four-year starter became just the fourth player in area history to reach 60 touchdowns and now has 61. Watkins reached 60 touchdowns faster than any player in area history and also went over 5,500 career yards. All-state wide receiver Gerald Ross caught six pases for 139 yards and Derek Gee and Jaiden Cioffi look like receivers who will keep defenses from loading up against Ross. Gee caught a team-high seven passes and Cioffi made some excellent catches, especially on his two touchdowns. Loyalsock has made six straight district playoff appearances.

Loyalsock player to watch–Eli Holler: The 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker could be a game-changer as this season progresses. He was off to a good start last year, but missed most of the campaign after suffering a season-ending injury. Holler made eight tackles last week.

Outlook: This game feels like a coin flip. It’s easy to over-react to one game and Week 1 hardly defines how a season will go since there are so many uknowns. Still, these teams appeared evenly matched and have a lot of playmakers. This likely will be one of the district’s top games this weekend.

–by CHRIS MASSE

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