By Justin Whitaker
DANVILLE — Friday night football was created for a night just like last night.
A crisp, clear autumn evening, a standing room only crowd and a conference championship on the line made respected rivals Danville and Tri-West’s annual meeting special.
The host Warriors (7-2) beat the Class 3A No. 6-ranked Bruins (7-2) 40-35 for the Helmet trophy and a share of the Sagamore Conference crown on senior night.
“This means a lot for the seniors. I don’t think that they have beat Tri-West since they were in grade school,” Danville coach Russ Sumner said. “They’ve talked about it all week how they haven’t beat Tri-West in so long and it’s been a while since we’ve had the helmet. And to be a conference champion means a lot as well.”
After the game, students rushed the field to celebrate the Warriors’ first win over the Bruins since 2010 and the first portion of the conference title since 2009.
“Senior night, our rivals, a conference championship, there’s nothing better,” Danville senior quarterback Scott Amor said. “I’m so happy for everybody, I’m just ecstatic right now.”
Danville, Tri-West and Western Boone each share a third of the conference title. Tri-West coach Chris Coll is extremely proud of his team’s accomplishments and slice of the Sagamore Conference crown.
“It’s means a lot, we are still conference champions. We’ll share it with them, we didn’t want to, we were a little selfish coming down here,” Coll said. “We beat WeBo, WeBo beat them and they beat us so I’m not going to look down at it. These kids ought to be proud. I think we were picked to finish 11th or 12th in a nine team conference this year so we did all right.”
Both offenses racked up yardage with only one punt the entire game between the polar opposite offensive schemes.
Danville’s triple option rushing attack helped control possession as the Warriors notched 518 yards total, with 466 yards coming via the ground.
Amor completed all five of his passes for 52 yards and rushed the ball 20 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Junior workhorse running back Autry Pickens led all rushers with 157 yards on 34 carries with three touchdowns. Sophomore Ben Jones added 85 yards on 12 carries.
Tri-West’s spread passing game totaled 338 yards and was nearly unstoppable in the first half. Sophomore quarterback Jake Hendershot threw for 237 yards, three touchdowns and an interception that was a last-second heave before halftime. Hendershot also completed his first 10 passes and rushed for 103 yards and a score.
Bruins senior Mitch Alexander rushed nine times for 74 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 51 yards. Senior Nick Phelps scored two touchdowns on four catches and 62 yards. Senior receiver Austin Lazaro caught three passes for 90 yards and Chris Staton added three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Lazaro returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to put Tri-West in great field position right off the bat. Two plays later, Hendershot connected with Staton from 27 yards out for his first of three first half touchdown passes.
Danville botched the ensuing kickoff return and gained possession at their own 3-yard line. But the Warriors marched down the field using five minutes and 18 plays. Pickens capped off the 97-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown and Danville failed to convert the two-point conversion.
“To go 97 yards on the first drive, it instills a lot of confidence in your players that we can move the ball on this team, we can put points on this team, we just need possessions,” Sumner said.
On the next drive, a sack by a host of Danville linemen setup a Tri-West fourth-and-16 from their own 21. Hendershot connected with Phelps for his first touchdown of the night in a clutch throw from the sophomore quarterback.
Danville then used another long drive, this time a 12-play, 83-yard possession that resulted in a Pickens 8-yard score and a Jackson Butler two-point conversion to even the game at 14-14 with 11:21 remaining in the second quarter.
The next Bruins possession resulted in a turnover as Lazaro took a double reverse 26 yards before fumbling at the Warriors’ 5-yard line.
Danville would give it back though as Amor fumbled at the Bruins’ 25-yard line.
Hendershot found Phelps for a score again, this time a 9-yarder to put Tri-West up 21-14 after a Thomas Tintera extra point.
Another 12-play drive resulted in Warrior touchdown when Amor found pay dirt from four yards out with 1:49 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bruins took a 21-20 lead into halftime after Danville’s two-point conversion failed.
After intermission though, the Warriors erupted to score 20 straight points with rushing touchdowns from Pickens (a yard) and Amor (35 and 9 yards) to lead 40-21 with 3:45 remaining in the third.
“We talked at halftime about being more aggressive in the second half. We felt like we were doing some of the things we wanted to do in the first half but not accomplishing all of those things we had talked about in our game plan,” Sumner said. “So we went back to the game plan and really fixed a couple of the issues we were having.”
But the Bruins didn’t go down without a fight. After a turnover on downs by Tri-West and the lone punt of the game by Danville, Hendershot scored on the 12th play of the ensuing drive on a quarterback keeper from a yard out to make it 40-28.
Amor then turned the ball over after a bad pitch and the Bruins’ Rick Perry recovered.
Tri-West added their second touchdown in a 1:09 when Alexander scored from 11 yards out to bring the Bruins to 40-35 with 4:31 remaining.
Danville was able to use its strong running game to gain four first downs on its possession to run out the clock.
“We battled until the end, they are a good team and they deserved to win tonight,” Coll said. “It’s a game of football, it’s what happens when you put two good teams on the field together. We had a little trouble stopping the running game and we battled it and battled it to get it to a one score game. We just couldn’t get that last stop to maybe get a chance at the end.”