Danville dropped a certain touchdown pass on the game’s second play, lost playmaker Jawan Grey to a shoulder injury on the sixth play and had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown 56 seconds into the second period.
Yet Sam Harp’s Admirals did what they have done most of the season — they came back to win again.
Danville got 100-yard rushing games — and big touchdown runs — from Damani Del Rosario and Jadarius Brown and key plays from numerous other players to come from behind to beat Lexington Christian 38-21 Friday at Admiral Stadium and secure at least one Class AA home playoff game.
“That blocked punt may have sparked us in an unusual way,” Harp said. “I’ve had eight blocked punts in 36 years of coaching. Tonight was only the second time I’ve had a punt blocked and won. That says a lot about the way we kept fighting.”
Danville (6-2, 2-1 District AA-7) came from behind for the fifth time this season, and it all started with Del Rosario’s 78-yard touchdown scamper after a pitch from quarterback Devonta Alcorn on the first play after LCA’s Nick Whitman returned a blocked punt for a 9-yard touchdown.
“I think that run did get us started,” said Del Rosario, a sophomore who gained 116 yards on 11 runs. “It was the motivation we needed. We were hyped at the start, but that was just extra motivation. I didn’t feel any panic after the blocked punt. We’ve been behind before. We had to just play with our heads up, and we did.”
Danville’s defense held twice, and the second stop enabled the Admirals to get the ball on a short punt at the LCA 40-yard line. Brown, a senior who ran for 113 yards on 12 carries, broke free up the middle for a 40-yard scoring scamper on the first play. He shook one attempted tackle at the line and burst up the middle to give the Admirals a 14-7 halftime lead.
“The line told me they had me. I just hit the hole and ran,” Brown said.
Harp was pleased with both backs.
“Damani made huge plays and so did J.D. (Brown). They came up huge,” Harp said. “I thought Olyjawan Ford possibly had his best game on both sides of the ball. He didn’t run the ball, but his blocking at the point of attack helped spring some long runs.”
Ford didn’t start at linebacker, and when he got into the game, he had 1 1/2 tackles for loss and five total stops.
“I would like to hope not starting him got him going. I always knew he was capable of playing like this. That’s very encouraging for the playoffs,” Harp said.
Danville extended its lead to 21-7 when Ace Ray, who was open by 20 yards behind the LCA secondary when he dropped the early pass, took a short pass from Alcorn, juked three defenders and scored from 33 yards out.
“It was nice to see him come back and make a play like that after what happened early,” Harp said.
The Admirals gave the touchdown back to LCA (5-4, 1-2) when Brannon McLarney got 30 yards behind the defense to take a pass from Dima Ballard and turn it into an 80-yard score that cut the deficit to 21-14 midway through period three. The teams traded fumbles before Danville senior Damir Karapandzic drilled a 32-yard field goal to give the Admirals a 24-14 lead with 1:39 left in period three.
Ray Bradshaw’s second fumble set up LCA at the Danville 30-yard line, and the Eagles got a 2-yard scoring run from Sam Maybriar to trim the margin to 24-21 with 9:35 left.
Just when it looked like the Admirals were in trouble, Del Rosario fielded a squib kick, saw a crease in the Eagles’ coverage and raced 59 yards to the 6-yard line to set up Alcorn’s 2-yard quarterback sneak for the touchdown and a 31-21 lead.
“That was kind of a big play,” Del Rosario said. “I was thinking, ‘Win this for the seniors on senior night.’ I was playing for them. I probably should have scored, but I got us close.”
Three plays later, Alcorn stepped in front of a LCA receiver to intercept Ballard’s throw and returned the ball 51 yards to the 9-yard line. Two plays later, Brown powered his way into the zone on a 1-yard run to ice the win.
“We still had to play defense, but we knew then we had the game,” Brown said. “We knew when Jawan went out, somebody else had to step up and make plays. I think we all did that.”
Harp said he thought this was the best overall game Danville played since a win over Boyle County in early September despite the blocked punt, losing two fumbles and allowing Ballard to throw for 276 yards. Jacobie Harris led the Admirals’ defense with four solo stops and eight assists, while Bradshaw had four solo stops, three assists, one fumble recovery and one quarterback sack.
“We made some mistakes, but we got the passion and energy back,” Harp said.
Del Rosario said the players were motivated by criticism they had heard.
“We were tired of everybody saying we did not play with passion. We had to come out and prove we could play that way, and I think we did,” he said.
Now Harp hopes the Admirals can regroup before facing Frankfort (8-1) on the road to close the season.
He said Grey will be “day to day” with his shoulder injury, and Alcorn had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter after taking a blow to the head. “We’ll see how he is in the next couple of days, but he’ll be day to day also,” Harp said.
Junior linebacker Thorne Koci also missed the second half with a knee injury.
“We didn’t have much depth at safety before Jawan went out,” Harp said. “We’ll probably have to take a cornerback and turn him into a safety this week. We are not a team with great depth, so every injury is pretty significant. But we got a win we really needed tonight and played so much better than last week (when the Admirals rallied to beat Middlesboro). We have not played this well for a while, and if we can just eliminate a few mistakes, we can play even better.”
Lexington Christian 0 7 7 7 — 21
Danville 0 14 10 14 — 38
Lexington Christian — Nick Whitman 9 blocked punt return (Colin Duzyk kick), 11:03.
Danville — Damani Del Rosario 78 run (Damir Karapandzic kick), 10:42.
Danville — Jadarius Brown 40 run (Karapandzic kick), 2:43.
Danville — Ace Ray 33 pass from Devonta Alcorn (Karapandzic kick), 6:54.
Lexington Christian — Brannon McLarney 80 pass from Dima Ballard (Duzyk kick), 6:40.
Danville — FG Karapandzic 32, 1:39.
Lexington Christian — Sam Maybriar 2 run (Duzyk kick), 9:34.
Danville — Alcorn 2 run (Karapandzic kick), 8:37.
Danville — Brown 1 run (Karapandzic kick), 7:46.
First downs 17 12
Rushes-yards 27-54 37-238
Passing 276 56
Total Net Yards 330 294
Comp-Att-Int 16-38-1 5-8-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 4-2
Penalties-Yards 9-50 8-85
RUSHING—Lexington Christian, Sam Maybriar 16-50, Dylan Lancaster 3-25, Nick Whitman 4-6, Dima Ballard 5-minus 26. Danville, Damani Del Rosario 11-116, Jadarius Brown 12-113, Tyquan Matthews 1-4, Devonta Alcorn 8-3, Ray Bradshaw 5-2.
PASSING—Lexington Christian, Ballard 16-38-1-276. Danville, Alcorn 5-8-0-56.
RECEIVING—Lexington Christian, Ryder Brown 3-58, Sam Arnold 3-37, Whitman 3-36, Josh Weber 2-18, Maybriar 2-17, Brannon McLarney 1-80, Adam Smith 1-22, Chander Sneed 1-8. Danville, Ace Ray 3-43, Jacobie Harris 1-18, Del Rosario 1-minus 5.