Danville may have gotten better during its bye week simply by getting well.
The Admirals had issues with injuries and illness that affected the two games leading up to last week’s open date, and coach Sam Harp said the time off gave them time to heal.
“We spent a big part of it healing up, not only from some injuries we had, but also because of sickness that’s been going on,” Harp said.
As a result, Danville is a much healthier team heading into its District AA-7 opener Friday at Somerset.
Harp said the Admirals will need to be as they play the first of only three district games against a team that has beaten up them in back-to-back years and that Harp said is still a formidable foe.
Somerset (3-3), the No. 8-ranked team in Class AA, has lost three straight games, including a 27-21 decision last week at Whitley County.
“They’re still pretty good,” Harp said.
No. 4 Danville (5-1) is in better shape to face the Briar Jumpers than it would have been two weeks ago. Quarterback Devonta Alcorn and running back-defensive back Devin Furlow will return to the lineup Friday after both missed the Admirals’ last two games, Alcorn with a back injury and Furlow with a bruised quadriceps.
In addition, Harp said lineman J.K. Howard will be back at full strength, having healed less severe quadriceps bruise, and a virus that afflicted a number of players has run its course through the locker room.
The only starter who isn’t expected to play this week is running back-linebacker Jadarius Brown, who is still out after suffering a dislocated shoulder Sept. 16.
“He’s much improved, and hopefully he’ll be able to start practicing again (in contact drills) next week,” Harp said.
Running back-linebacker Max Ray is still bothered by the broken wrist he suffered in the preseason, and he underwent surgery Tuesday in which pins were inserted that should help the wrist heal properly, but Harp said he was expected to return to practice Wednesday.
“It just wasn’t healing properly. It didn’t look like it was going to come together,” Harp said. “He’s going to play the same way he has been (with the wrist casted).”
Ray is Danville’s leading rusher with 342 yards and seven touchdowns. Tryston Ford — who has filled in for Alcorn at quarterback in the last two games — leads the Admirals with 903 all-purpose yards, including 547 return yards and 259 rushing yards and is the team’s leading scorer with 56 points.
Alcorn is 12 for 40 for 241 yards with four touchdowns, and Leroy Hawkins and Jawan Grey lead the Admirals’ receivers with four catches each.
Defensive lineman Tre’von Sandifer has emerged Danville’s top tackler with 21 total tackles and three sacks.
The Somerset offense the Admirals will face isn’t as potent as it was a year ago, when the Jumpers averaged 49.2 points per game in a 13-1 season that saw them advance to the AAA semifinals. In their first season back in AA, they are averaging 19.2 points and were shut out by Breathitt County and held to seven points by Glasgow in their first two losses.
“They’ve changed their offense up a little bit. They’re trying to find the true identity that’s right for them,” Harp said. “They still throw the ball around a lot and still mix it up.”
Wide receiver Storm Wilson has caught 20 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns and is the team’s leading scorer with 36 points. The senior had seven catches for 68 yards last week in the Jumpers’ loss to Whitley last week.
“He’s explosive,” Harp said. “He’s returned a punt or a kickoff (for long yardage) in their last four games. And every game you turn on, he’s catching a wide receiver screen and seems to be taking it for a touchdown.”
Somerset’s primary quarterback, Alex Lange, is also its leading rusher. Lange is 29-for-60 for 415 passing yards and three touchdowns, and he has rushed 84 times — nearly three times as many as any other Jumper — for 470 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a go-to guy for them,” Harp said.
Tanner Gadberry, who plays quarterback when Lange is in the backfield, is 18-for-28 for 192 passing yards and is the Jumpers’ second-leading rusher with 101 yards.
“He’ll come in and go to quarterback and Lange will to go tailback, and some games he’ll start. But at some point during the game, they’re going to change it up,” Harp said.
Somerset also features two strong defensive linemen in brothers Trey and Tevin Slaughter. Senior Trey (6-1, 220) was an all-state nose guard last season, and junior Tevin (6-1, 225) is a big lineman who also runs the ball at times.
Lange lines up at defensive end, and Wilson has a team-high five interceptions from the secondary for a defense that is allowing just 16.7 points per game.
Danville is scoring 31.2 points and allowing 21.8 points per game.
Somerset is Danville’s oldest rival, but the two teams haven’t been in the same district since 2002. They have played in six of the eight years since, however, including the last two years, when the Jumpers beat the Admirals 48-7 (2009) and 38-13 (2010).
“Somerset’s had our number the last two years. Two years ago it was quite embarrassing, and last year it wasn’t a whole lot better than that,” Harp said.
Danville turned the ball over on its first three possessions last year against Somerset, and Harp said the Admirals can’t afford such mistakes against a good team and in a district in which there is so little margin for error.
“With only having four teams in the district, every time you play a district game it has playoff implications,” he said.