DANVILLE – Moments after the final horn sounded at Municipal Stadium on Friday night, East Knox senior Treyton Slone stood at midfield with tears welling in his eyes.
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound lineman known for bullying quarterbacks and owning the trenches became misty-eyed as he watched the scene before him: teammates hoisting the Devil-Dog Trophy, coaches sharing hugs, parents taking pictures.
Slone had shed his shoulder pads and jersey to show what lay underneath: a hand-made white cut-off shirt with “10-0” printed in purple across the front.
He still couldn’t believe it had actually happened.
East Knox dismantled Danville on Friday, 41-7, to claim its first perfect regular season since 1996. The Bulldogs won the KMAC outright and will make their first playoff appearance since 2005 next week at home.
“Words can describe it. I don’t really know what to say right now,” junior wide receiver Braden Kannady said afterwards. “We’re the third team ever at East Knox to be 10-0 and to be a part of that, and to be a part of the team as a family, it’s just unbelievable. Words just can’t describe it.”
For the past two years, East Knox has been good, but not good enough. The Bulldogs won seven games in 2017, then eight games last year, but missed the playoffs each time by one spot. They struggled to beat big-name opponents late in the season, and it cost them postseason opportunities.
Not this year.
“It feels fantastic. The last two years we’ve came up short and that’s our own fault, hats off to the other team, but this feels amazing,” said head coach Cody Reese, whose purple windbreaker was drenched in Gatorade after the game. “I’m really proud of the kids, the senior class. [They] bought into the things, where we came up short, to use that as determination instead of feeling sorry for themselves.
“We preach so much about that, because that’s what life’s about. It’s not about how you fall, but how you get back up. So I’m really proud of these kids, seniors, every grade level. The kids just really bought into the system – playing hard, playing together – and if you do that right, you’re going to be successful. That’s what we tell them.”
East Knox beat Danville last season for the first time in 13 years, and the Bulldogs appeared intent Friday on keeping the Devil-Dog Trophy in Howard for at least another 365 days.
After Danville turned the ball over on downs at its own 33-yard-line, it took East Knox five plays to draw first blood. Tailback Caleb Gallwitz raced up the left side and into the end zone from 14 yards out with 6:06 left in the first quarter.
It would be his first of five touchdowns that night, as the senior ran for 209 yards on 23 carries. Gallwitz brought his season total to 2,258 yards and 41 touchdowns; 10 weeks in, he is still averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.
“They got the ball to their athletes in space, which we were worried and concerned about,” Danville head coach Ed Honabarger said. “They do a great job of doing that, and obviously they made some plays and got themselves some breathing room.”
Gallwitz added touchdown scampers of three and five yards to give East Knox a 21-0 lead with 6:56 to play in the first half. But Danville, in true Devil-Dog spirit, wouldn’t go away quietly.
The Blue Devils marched down the field – 16 plays in 6:38 – and capped off the game’s longest drive with a touchdown pass from quarterback Charlie Cook that threaded the needle and landed softly in the hands of Nick O’Dell. Cook, pressured after dropping back on third-and-12 from the 15, found O’Dell cutting across the middle and hit him in-stride. The extra point made it 21-7 with 12 seconds left in the half.
Both coaches agreed that what happened after halftime is likely what decided the game.
East Knox received the ball first and executed a death march of its own, using a 12-play drive to set up a five-yard Gallwitz touchdown run. After Danville had regained some momentum at the end of the first half, cutting the deficit to two scores, East Knox took it right back to start the third quarter.
“To be able to take time off the clock – their offense isn’t on the field, offense is the best defense – and to be able to march it down and get six on the board, that was huge. It was a big change in morale,” Reese said. “They gathered the momentum right there before half by scoring, so it was huge coming out in the second half and being able to punch one in, in the manner that we did.”
It was smooth sailing the rest of the way for East Knox. Kannady had an electric sequence near the end of the third quarter, where he leapt up to intercept a Danville pass, then caught a Kadden Lester touchdown bomb on the very next play. Despite being hit hard on the interception play, Kannady was able to regroup and score by beating his defender down the sideline just moments later.
“When I heard them call my favorite play, you know, you gotta get up the next play,” Kannady said with a smile. “There’s hits that you gotta work through sometimes and like I said, the execution was there and we made it happen.”
Lester put together another efficient performance for East Knox, throwing 10-of-12 for 149 yards and a score. Kannady, Gage Steinmetz and Weston Melick each recorded three catches Friday night.
Gallwitz scored one final time with 3:16 left in the third quarter, as he broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown sprint to put the Bulldogs up 34 points, which initiated a running clock.
Given East Knox’s big-play ability, Honabarger said Danville’s gameplan coming into Friday night was simple.
“We wanted to get push up front, we wanted to eat up clock, use the play clock up and keep their offense off the field,” the 16th-year head coach said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that in the first half. I think it was only three series’ for them. They scored all three series’, but still, they’re capable of scoring 50 in a half.”
East Knox used its size and speed to wear Danville down in the second half, however, causing the Blue Devils’ gameplan to crumble.
“They started wearing us down with the big bodies, their skill kids made the plays that they’ve been making all year,” Honabarger said. “That’s what good teams do, and they’re a good team – great team.”
Danville made it to the East Knox 27-yard-line in the second quarter but couldn’t convert. Cook was sacked by Bulldog lineman Luke Grosscup on fourth down, causing a turnover on downs. Honabarger said capitalizing on that drive could have changed the game early on.
But in the end, Friday’s game came down to execution – and East Knox was nearly flawless.
“We were able to get push with our offensive line, we were able to execute blocking out on the edge and we were able to hit some passes going down the stretch,” Reese said. “The kids really – when we called their number, they stepped up and made the plays and I’m really proud of them for doing that.”
After 12 straight years of losing to Danville, East Knox has now won two straight Devil-Dog Games. Kannady called the feeling “unbelievable.”
“My freshman year, we lost to this team by a touchdown…” Kannady said. “To keep the trophy in Howard this year, it’s awesome.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Danville (2-8, 2-5 KMAC) finished the season with its lowest win total since 2009. The Blue Devils beat Cardington and Fredericktown in Weeks 6 and 7, but struggled offensively for a large part of the season. Danville scored just 14 combined points in its final three games.
“It’s sort of the story of our season, you know?” Honabarger said of the lack of offensive execution Friday night. “You move the ball a little bit here, move the ball a little bit there, but then you have a penalty set you back. We’ve struggled with that all year.”
The Blue Devils will lose 11 seniors from this year’s roster, including playmakers like Alex Holt, Langdon Johnson and Cook. They’ll look to rebuild next year after two straight losing seasons.
“I just told the young kids, you’ve gotta work hard in the weight room, get stronger, get faster, get more football knowledge,” Honabarger said.
East Knox (10-0, 7-0 KMAC), meanwhile, will prepare for a home playoff matchup next Friday. According to Joe Eitel’s unofficial playoff rankings, the Bulldogs are likely to face Ashland Crestview (7-3).
The last time East Knox made it to the playoffs, Reese was a senior on the team. The Bulldogs beat Nelsonville-York at home in the first round, 35-28, then fell by three touchdowns to Centerburg in the second round.
Having experienced the postseason during his high school days, Reese put things into perspective after Friday’s game.
“There’s only 32 teams in our division practicing this week,” Reese said. “The air’s gonna smell different, the field’s gonna feel different next week, and I just hope it’s something we can really buy into and use that for excitement, towards preparing for the game next week.”
Just moments after the win against Danville, Kannady already seemed to have his mind on Week 11.
“All wins are temporary, so next week’s going to be a lot of preparation...” Kannady said. “We’ve just gotta execute better than we ever have before, play the best we ever have and come together as one team when needed. We’ll do the best we can and come out swingin’.”