By Mike Walker
LEBANON — Despite all the crazy weather that has come through Central Indiana on Friday nights, last night’s matchup between Lebanon and Danville was the first time these teams had to play through the sloppy conditions.
The mud and wind allowed the Danville to impose their size and strength as theytook a narrow 21-20 victory.
“Our quickness has been a key for us this season and tonight the wet, sloppy conditions played to Danville’s favor,” Lebanon coach Kent Wright said. “There were rough conditions out there, but we gotta get the ball in the end zone at the end.”
The end to which Wright was referring was a fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. It was setup by Lebanon quarterback Isaac Harker, who scrambled free on a fourth-and-19 and found Caleb Brannon open for a first down. A couple of short runs and an incomplete pass set the Tigers up with fourth-and -goal. On the play, Harker dropped back, but was unable to find an open receiver and Danville shut off his running lanes, forcing Harker to throw it up in the end zone and it then fell harmlessly to the water-soaked field.
The game started off with both teams trying to find their footing as the rain slowly turned the field into a muddy mess. Neither team scored on their opening drives. Harker keyed the Tiger’s first scoring drive with a couple of big runs and throws, including a pair of quick slants that moved the chains and kept the drive alive. Lebanon’s touchdown came on a 1-yard plunge by Jamison Wright, but the Tigers missed a 2-point-conversion and led 6-0 with 2:10 left in the first.
Met with a challenge, Danville’s Jake Bolton answered the call with a 65-yard kickoff return that set up the Warriors’ offense at the Tiger 21.
From there, Danville workhorse Autry Pickens carried four straight times, spinning and churning through the Lebanon defense before punching it in from seven yards out. Another failed two-point try left the game tied at 6-6 after the first.
After swapping punts, Harker had his team on the move again. Backed up deep in their own territory Harker dropped back to pass, but quick pressure from the Danville defense forced him to step up in the pocket. From there the field seemed to open up as he took off towards the right sideline before cutting back and being dragged down from behind at the Danville 12. On the very next play, Brannon took the handoff toward the left sidebefore cutting back up the middle andmaking his way in for the12-yard score. The touchdown gave Lebanon a 12-6 lead at the break.
As the teams came back into the cold, windy night, it took each offense a couple of drives to re-adjust to the conditions. The two teams exchanged both puntsand fumbles on the first four drives and that set up Danville as they took over at the Tiger 34.
Pickens, who took all but a handful of carries in the second half, once again gashed the Tigers’ defense right up the gut.
Pickens had carries of 9, 8, and 5 yards before scoring from six yards out and gave the Warriors their first lead of the night. It was a 13-12 lead that came from the toe of Dustin Rieser who knocked home, what amounted to, the game winning the extra point.
Lebanon took the lead back on a 40-yard reverse and the Warriors trailed 20-13 with 1:30 left in the third.
Needing a touchdown, Danville went right back to Pickens, who seemed to grow stronger as the night wore on. The Warriors ensuing drive
covered 74 yards in just eight plays and less than three minutes as Pickens carried his team down the field. This time he had runs of 43 and 13 yards before reaching paydirt on a 2-yard plunge. Feeling Pickens just couldn’t be stopped, Warrior head coach Russ Sumner elected to go for the lead as Pickens converted the two-point conversion and Danville led, 21-20. Pickens finished the night with 44 carries for 233 yards and three scores.
“We knew, especially with the conditions, that it was going to be up to us to stop him and we just didn’t get it done,” said Wright of his
The Warriors’ offense held a long Tigers drive before turning the ball over to the offense to close out the contest. Danville’ offense ran off the remaining seven minutes on the clock.