Football player pulls away from a tackler
Danville's Wesley Payne completes a catch during the fourth quarter of Friday's Division VII regional final against Dalton. Credit: Bill Davis

DOVER – Friday’s Division VII regional final started out like it would be decided by one big play.

Danville’s Cole Delaughder delivered late in the first quarter, when he blocked a punt and sent the ball out of the endzone for a safety.

But that big play didn’t decide the game. It was simply the Blue Devils’ lone highlight on a long, cold, rainy night in Dover.

The Dalton Bulldogs claimed their first regional championship Friday with a 31-8 victory over Danville. For the Blue Devils, it means a runner-up spot in the region for the second straight season.

Danville’s Cole Delaughder, left, wrestles the ball away from a Dalton defender while teammate Nate Stephens (16) celebrates during the fourth quarter of Friday’s Division VII regional final. (Photo by Bill Davis)

“They were the better team tonight, and that’s life,” Danville coach Matt Blum said. “At the end of the season, only one team is going to be truly, truly happy. And that’s on us this year.

“But that’s OK. We got to back-to-back regional finals. I’m really proud of this group.”

The Blue Devils knew they couldn’t allow any big plays from Dalton running back Greyson Siders.

With one lone exception – a 75-yard touchdown sprint in the waning minutes of the game – the Devils did just that. The Bulldogs’ longest play on the ground in the first three quarters was a 19-yard run by Siders in which he dragged several Devils along with him.

Siders finished with 179 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.

Danville (13-1) simply couldn’t get its offense going in the first half.

With a cold rain soaking everything, Weckesser was unable to complete any passes, and the ground game managed just 43 yards.

The Devils’ best opportunity came late in the first quarter. Dalton lined up to punt from its own 28-yard line.

Delaughder came through untouched and blocked the punt. The ball rolled all the way to the end zone and was batted out, giving Danville the first points of the game.

But despite getting the ball back on the Dalton 45, Danville could not capitalize. They ran three plays for two yards and punted.

The Bulldogs (13-1) took possession at the 20 and executed a 13-play drive ending with a 20-yard touchdown pass.

“I thought that was going to be the turning point, I really did, but we couldn’t convert,” Blum said. “When you get the ball and can only muster two yards.

“That’s just how the night went. And you’re going to run into that.”

The Bulldogs played keep-away after that, holding the Devils to no more than a single first down on any drive while keeping the ball for themselves using short runs.

The rain had stopped by the fourth quarter, allowing the Devils to finally execute its complete offensive plan. However, trailing 21-2, it was an uphill battle.

Danville ran five plays for 83 yards, including a first-down catch by Wesley Payne. The drive ended with a lob by Walker Weckesser to the end zone, where Delaughder wrestled the ball away from a defender to score.

The touchdown was too little, too late.

“They’re a special group, man,” Blum said of his senior while fighting back tears. “They came in with me when I was an assistant. I’ve seen them grow up a lot. I’ve been through a lot with that group. They mean a lot to me.

“I wish I could have gotten them over the hump. But it is what it is. They should be proud of their success. I know I am.”

Bill Davis was born and raised in California. He is a graduate of Ball State with a degree in Journalism. The former sports editor of the Mount Vernon News, his three children attend Mount Vernon City...