HOWARD – They waited 12 years for this moment.
So, what was it like to finally get to hoist the Devil-Dog trophy?
“I dreamed about this day since I was in Colt (football),” East Knox senior Kasson Krownapple said. “It’s surreal. I don’t have the words to explain it.”
No explanation was necessary. The Bulldogs had already made their statement on the field.
The East Knox Bulldogs ended their 2018 season with a celebration at midfield at Chet Looney Stadium. They fought through a steady, driving rain and a muddy turf to erase a fourth-quarter deficit and defeat the visiting Danville Blue Devils, 28-21.
For East Knox, which was mathematically eliminated from the postseason last week, it marked a thrilling end to a hard-fought season.
Conversely, Danville ended its season in the most sour way possible. At 4-5, the Blue Devils were still fighting for a potential playoff spot, not to mention a chance to keep their trophy on display for another year.
The loss ended both dreams.
Danville (4-6, 4-3 Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference) never trailed until 4:13 remained in the game. That’s when Kasson Krownapple, who had led a five-minute drive without a single pass, scored from 13 yards out.
The touchdown was the senior’s third of the game – and the one he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
“The line really buckled down tonight,” Krownapple said. “They did the best I’ve ever seen them play in my life.”
The drive was inspired by head coach Cody Reese’s own experience. Reese, who was a senior for the Bulldogs the last time they won the trophy, played until a Wing-T offense. Although the current East Knox incarnation likes to toss the ball around, Reese dug into his roots as the game grew tight in the final minutes.
“Our offensive line was getting a good push,” Reese said. “We believed in our run game. If it’s working, we’re going to do it with the matchups we had.”
East Knox (8-2, 5-2 KMAC) focused on the passing game for the first two quarters. The offense went through a metamorphosis throughout the second half, eventually settling on a run-only offensive setup.
Krownapple’s final touchdown capped a night in which he rushed for 139 yards on 26 carries. He scored both of East Knox’s fourth-quarter touchdowns, starting with a three-yard bulldozing run early in the period.
Quarterback Kadden Lester attempted 25 passes, connecting on 13 of them for 124 yards. Most of those throws came before the rain took a large toll on the field and on the slippery ball.
“We had to pass before we could run,” Krownapple said. “We had to spread out that defense. Get them to be thinking pass.”
That slippery ball made its first appearance early. When Danville’s first drive stalled, East Knox fumbled the punt reception and the Devils took over deep in Bulldog territory.
Danville’s next three drives all ended in touchdowns. Quarterback Dalton David, a former East Knox student, completed 11 out of 18 passes for 158 yards and threw for all three touchdowns.
East Knox responded to the first score with a seven-minute drive, converting a pair of fourth-down plays along the way. Weston Melick took the snap himself for a three-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7.
David passed to Alex Holt to give Danville a 14-7 lead.
The Bulldogs drove the length of the field again, scoring on Krownapple’s first three-yard dive.
Less than two minutes later, David found a streaking Ethan Hawk down the sideline. The perfect strike led to a 46-yard score and a 21-14 lead at intermission.
East Knox mixed up its offense in the third quarter. Four different players took snaps. The team ran reverses, including a double-reverse ending with a pass that fell just short of a receiver in the endzone. Two other passes were intercepted by Danville’s defense, both by Langdon Johnson.
“I knew we had to give them different looks, because Danville is an excellently-coached team,” Reese said. “The players executed very well. I’m so proud of them.”
The Devils continued to throw in the fourth quarter, but conditions had deteriorated and their final three drives stalled.
Danville appeared to tie the game on a touchdown pass with two minutes to go, but the play was called back for a holding penalty.
Two plays later, the Blue Devils’ final pass fell to the muddy ground, and the Bulldogs began to celebrate.
Reese himself jumped into the air, hugged every assistant coach and player he could find, and sprinted over to the trophy after the ceremonial handshake.
“It’s about time,” Reese said. “We’re coming off a 12-year drought. It felt great (in 2005), but as a coach, I enjoy this more because I see how hard these kids worked, and what this whole community has gone through.”
There will be no Week 11 for either team. But, for the Bulldogs – at least for the time being – that doesn’t matter.
“This is a lot better than I ever imagined,” Lester said. “This is what East Knox football is all about. We didn’t give up until the end. We got the job done.”