Perhaps things have changed in the 34 days since Danville and Somerset last met; perhaps nothing has changed at all. Either way, the Admirals are eager to find out.
They will learn Friday whether they have what it takes to beat a team that has had their number for the past three years, or whether a fourth straight loss to Somerset will end their season.
Danville coach Sam Harp said he is confident that the Admirals have a better game in them than was displayed in their Oct. 7 loss at Somerset, and he said they’ll welcome the chance to prove that when the teams reconvene at Clark Field for a Class AA second-round playoff game.
“I think they look forward to it. They certainly weren’t happy with their performance,” Harp said.
Of course, neither was Harp. He was far more critical of Danville after its 23-6 loss at Somerset than at any other point this season, although he also affirmed his confidence in the Admirals’ ability in the wake of that game and in the weeks since. The Admirals (8-3) have won three of their four games since that defeat, although a district loss to Lexington Christian moved their anticipated playoff rematch up a week to the second round.
The Briar Jumpers (7-4) , who went on to win District 7, have also won three of their four subsequent games, and Harp said neither team has made any major changes since they last crossed paths.
“They’re basically doing the same thing, and we are, too. We really didn’t expect to see any significant changes,” he said.
There could, however, be some significant lineup changes. Both senior Alex Lange, Somerset’s primary quarterback and leading rusher, and senior Storm Wilson, its leading receiver, were injured the Briar Jumpers’ first-round win over Betsy Layne. Their coach, Rob Lucas, told the Commonwealth Journal of Somerset after the game that the availability of both players for Friday was in doubt.
Lange, who left with a knee injury after only three offensive plays, has thrown for 794 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 981 yards and eight touchdowns for the Jumpers — sophomore Tanner Gadberry also sees time quarterback for the Jumpers — while Wilson, who suffered a neck injury, has 38 receptions for 472 yards and seven touchdowns.
Harp said Max Ray, Danville’s second-leading rusher, is day-to-day after aggravating an earlier ankle injury, while quarterback-running back-wide receiver-defensive back Tryston Ford and lineman J.K. Howard are also day-to-day with nagging injuries.
Ray has rushed for 603 yards and nine touchdowns, while Ford has 625 rushing yards, 182 passing yards and 155 receiving yards and accounted for 17 of the Admirals’ 44 offensive touchdowns.
Ford scored Danville’s only touchdown in its regular-season loss at Somerset, a score that came late in the game and after the Admirals had fallen behind 23-0.
Lange rushed for 181 yards in that game, including a 51-yard touchdown run on a third-down quarterback sneak on the third play of the game. Somerset trampled Danville for 301 rushing yards, while the Admirals’ offense managed only 197 yards and repeatedly failed to produce the plays needed to sustain drives.
“It was our own mistakes and our own lack of effort,” Harp said.
On the other hand, Harp said he liked most of what he saw last week when Danville won 32-16 at Prestonsburg in the first round of the playoffs.
“They just had good focus and intensity, and I think we played well,” he said.
No such sloppy conditions are expected at Somerset, but the Admirals have had their share of problems in recent years there. They have lost twice in the last three seasons at Clark Field by a combined score of 71-13, and the Jumpers won 38-13 at Danville last year.
“They’re a solid football team; there’s no question about that,” Harp said. “Robbie Lucas has done an outstanding job since he’s taken over the program.”
Harp said the Admirals will spend some time this week watching the video of their loss to Somerset earlier this season.
“I think you have to pull it out and watch it,” he said. “I don’t think they have to be reminded too much, but at the same time, you have to go back and watch it.”
Somerset is Danville’s oldest football rival, and the two teams have met seven times in the playoffs. The Admirals won five of those games, including the last postseason meeting in 2001.
A win Friday would send them back to the regional finals for the second straight year after a three-year absence.
“We’ve only got seven seniors, and we’ve talked to the underclassmen about sending those seven seniors out the best way we possibly can,” Harp said.