LOUDONVILLE – In a game where two quality defenses held offense to a premium, a three-minute span of second-quarter electricity propelled one team to their first win of the season on Friday night and sent the other team home empty-handed.
Loudonville led Danville 7-0 with 7:10 left until halftime when quarterback Logan Huffman found wideout Connor Harper over the top for a 86-yard touchdown completion. The sophomore caught the ball at midfield and beat everyone to the house.
The Redbirds then executed an onside kick flawlessly, which brought the offense back out onto the field once again. This time, however, it would be starting in Danville territory.
In what seemed to be a microcosm of the game at-large, five Redbirds carried the ball on the ensuing possession. The home team marched ruthlessly toward the goal line, as Danville’s defense began ripping at the seams. Finally, senior tailback Mason Taylor-Loyd delivered the death blow – a four-yard touchdown plunge through the heart of the Blue Devil defense.
All of the sudden, with 4:39 remaining in the second quarter, the score was 21-0. In the blink of an eye, Loudonville had blown the game wide open.
“That was a big momentum [change],” Danville head coach Ed Honabarger acknowledged afterwards.
The Redbirds (1-1) went on to win 21-6 behind a dominant defensive effort and a near-perfect second quarter offensively. Danville (0-2) fell victim to another poor first-half performance, as it did in Week 1, which ultimately made the difference.
“We gotta quit digging holes in the first half,” Honabarger said. “We did it last week with Lucas. Lucas is a decent team, Loudonville’s a decent team. Can’t dig holes against decent teams, or against anybody... You have to come back from two or three scores and it’s just too rough, too tough.”
Loudonville held Danville to just 50 yards of total offense in the first half. The Blue Devils crossed into Redbird territory on three different possessions, but penalties and sacks kept them from reaching the red zone. Danville finished the first half with more penalties (5) than first downs (2).
While Danville sputtered, Loudonville took advantage. The Redbirds collected 224 yards of total offense in the first half, using a four-tailback system to wear down the Blue Devil defense. Huffman passed the ball just five times, but he did so efficiently; the junior went 4-for-5 for 124 yards and a touchdown.
But the game was still within reach for Danville midway through the second quarter. That’s when Loudonville head coach Kevin Maltarich decided to pull the trigger on two plays he’d been itching to run all night – the late-down longball and the subsequent onside kick.
Maltarich said his staff had watched Danville’s secondary creep up twice in the first quarter, and they were waiting for the right time to make the call. They saw it again on third-and-11 and called the play for Huffman to float a rainbow over the top to Harper, one of the fastest players on the field. It resulted in an electric touchdown that brought the crowd to its feet.
The onside kick was a product of film room preparation, Maltarich said. He and his staff had thought they’d be able to pull it off based on Danville’s alignment. The Redbirds tried it twice earlier in the game and Danville fell on the ball both times. The third time, however, they caught the Blue Devils sleeping.
“That kind of gave us a little bit more momentum, got them back on their heels and we were able to execute,” Maltarich said of the ensuing possession.
Danville scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Cook to Langdon Johnson with 5:02 left in the game. But it was too little, too late for the Blue Devils, who managed just 164 yards of total offense on Friday. Penalties ultimately doomed Danville; on the rare occasion Johnson or fellow tailback Alex Holt would break loose, their runs were often called back on holding penalties.
“You get a nice gain – sometimes those are double-digit gains – and it gets brought back because we have a holding,” Honabarger said. “Not too many teams can get 25 yards back, you know?”
Loudonville’s offense coasted in the second half after torching Danville in the first. The Redbirds’ senior quartet of running backs – Gavin Davis, Trevor Cutlip, Taylor-Loyd and Derek Fisher – combined for 130 of the team’s 161 rushing yards. Huffman finished with 134 yards through the air and 18 on the ground.
The Redbirds were impressive defensively on Friday as well, as they used their physicality to disrupt Danville’s offense at the line of scrimmage. This has been a theme so far in 2019; through the first two weeks of the season, Loudonville has surrendered just nine total points.
“That’s one thing that our kids pride themselves on, is defense,” Maltarich said. “We played a heck of a defensive game last week and we played a heck of a defensive game this week. We’re going to continue to get better on that side of the ball.”
For now, Loudonville will be able to exhale after capturing its first win of the year on Friday. After losing in heartbreaking fashion in Week 1, Maltarich said he was proud of the way his team responded.
“It’s huge,” Maltarich said. “Danville’s kind of a natural rival for us and beating those guys is always great.”
Danville, meanwhile, will go back to the drawing board. The Blue Devils will seek answers offensively after scoring just three touchdowns in their first two games combined. They’ll also need to shed their first-half jitters if they want to compete down the stretch.
“We’ve just gotta get better. We’ve gotta play two halves of football,” Honabarger said. “We can’t play two halves of football right now.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Loudonville (1-1) will head to county rival Hillsdale (2-0) next week. The Falcons beat Crestview on Friday, 33-14. Danville (0-2) will host Worthington Christian (1-1) next Friday. The Warriors lost to Northmor this week, 42-17.