Garaway Football

Blue Devils survive major challenge from young Pirates

Blue Devils and Pirates battle to the bitter end

Very few people gave the young Garaway Pirates football team a fighting chance against a talented and experienced Danville Blue Devils team that has been one of the premier programs in the area for decades. Yet when the Blue Devils invaded The Hill in Sugarcreek on Friday, Sept. 8, there were the Pirates, holding the ball in their possession late in the third quarter with a 20-3 lead.

That was when the Blue Devils mustered a ton of courage and fight, battled back to score the game’s final 20 points to post a 23-20 comeback win that left both coaches hopeful for the future.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of young men — and I stress young — who went out there tonight and played their hearts out,” Garaway head coach Jason Wallick said. “We are a young team, and we have made some tremendous strides since week one. There were a few times we didn’t execute tonight, and it bit us in the butt, but if we continue to play with this kind of effort, we are going to be fine.”

While Wallick sang the praises of his youthful crew, Danville head coach Ed Honabarger loved the way his team responded to the adversity of being down big late in a game.

“Our kids showed a lot of heart and a lot of fight, and they stayed after it,” Honabarger said following the comeback win that improved his team to 3-0. “We started to get after it, and we started to make plays, and we got some real leadership tonight that helped pull us through this thing.”

Some of that leadership came from quarterback Skylar Durbin, who stepped up and led the Blue Devils back to victory by leading drives that produced the game’s final 20 points. However, Honabarger said nobody exemplified the guts the Blue Devils showed more than junior split end Corbin Hazen. Hazen had sprained his ankle fairly severely Wednesday during practice, and his presence in the second half was questionable. Honabarger said the junior was not going to miss this game.

“He came out there in the second half and told our coaching staff he was definitely playing,” Honabarger said.

Then all Hazen did was go out and make huge plays.

The first half was a penalty-marred affair that didn’t allow any kind of flow to the game. The penalties included a holding call that erased a 50-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Pirates’ freshman Braden Yoder. Eventually a Reese Dorsey field goal put Danville on top 3-0 with just under five minutes left in the half, but Garaway’s Dawson Ley would engineer a drive near the end of the half that would result in him finding Kory Stress for a touchdown with 1:30 to play on a ball that somehow Stress managed to haul in with a Danville defender draped all over him.

A missed extra point gave Garaway a 6-3 half-time lead.

Defense and penalties may have ruled the first half, but that would all change in the second half as things would heat up quickly.

On Garaway’s opening drive of the third quarter, Lay hit Matthew Mullen on a sideline swing pass, and Mullen danced and darted his way to pay dirt to put Garaway up 13-3 after Peyton Miller’s PAT. After getting a stop, the Pirates wasted little time in posting another score, this one a 15-yard pass to Yoder, his first varsity score standing this time to give the Pirates a 20-3 edge.

Hazen then made a spectacular catch to set up Chris Greenawalt’s plunge in from the one to cap off a Danville drive, but the two-point conversion failed, leaving the Blue Devils down 20-9 heading into the fourth quarter.

Garaway then missed a golden opportunity early in the fourth quarter. The Pirates took the ball down to the Danville 12-yard line, where Wallick called time-out on fourth-and-two. Danville expected a run and bit on the fake to Brady Winters. Ley then stepped back into the pocket and lofted a pass to a wide-open Peyton Miller in the end zone, but the pass sailed just a tad high, glancing off the fingertips of Miller.

The play would have put the Blue Devils in a huge hole at 27-9 with just one quarter left, but instead it seemed to ignite Danville, who was about to empty the backfield and go five-wide on offense.

Durbin quickly hit Brice Berger on a screen pass, and the brawny senior broke a tackle and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown that drew Danville within 20-17 following a two-point conversion.

With Garaway driving to near midfield, Hazen stepped in and intercepted a Ley offering, giving Danville the ball just beyond midfield. The Blue Devils struck quickly, taking the lead when Durbin found Berger again, and just like last time, Berger broke a tackle and rushed to the end zone, giving the Blue Devils a 23-20 lead with 6:51 to play.

Garaway again began driving downfield, but Berger stepped in and made a great diving play, deflecting Garaway’s fourth-down pass. Garaway’s defense came through, getting a key stop on a great play by Dylan Hershberger with less than four minutes to play.

Garaway took over deep in their own territory and moved the ball out of danger on a nice Winters run, but Danville’s defense forced a turnover on downs with time running out.

The Pirates were not going down without a fight, and Dillon Donaldson chased down Durbin on third down to force a Danville punt with just under one minute to play. Durbin’s punt rolled deep into Garaway territory, and the Pirates’ last-chance hopes were dashed when Hazen stepped in front of a Ley pass, picked it off and sealed the Blue Devils win.

“We fought and gave ourselves a chance right to the very end,” Wallick said. “We never gave up against a team nobody gave us much of a chance to beat. But that is the kind of team we want to compete against to get better. They have 34 league championships, and that is where we want to be, and we were extremely close tonight. It hurts. It hurts a lot, and these guys are hurting, and that tells me we are growing up, and it shows these kids truly care about each other.”

Asked whether his team’s massive success over the years came into play in his team’s ability to come through in crunch time, Honabarger said he would like to say it did, but he added that kids are kids, and then he said that Garaway has had its share of success too, and they wanted the win just as badly.

“They have a great tradition too, and they played hard all night long too,” Honabarger said. “They are going to be fine. I’m just thrilled the way our kids showed their hearts tonight when we had our backs against the wall. I thought they showed a lot of character and leadership when we needed it.”

Danville racked up 421 total yards to Garaway’s 305 with 342 of those Blue Devil yards coming from the arm of Durbin, who ended the night hitting 25-of-37 passes for two scores. Ley was strong too for the Pirates, connecting on 18-of-30 passes for 154 yards and three scores while adding 111 rushing yards.

Danville did a good job of bottling up the dangerous Winters, who managed just 42 rushing yards on 17 carries.

Mullen hauled in three catches for 67 yards, Yoder caught his balls for 41 yards, Jace Briggs made four catches for 20 yards and Winters grabbed three catches for 15 yards.

Stress played a sensational game defensively, making nine tackles, while Peyton Miller and Austin Fearon added seven, Donaldson added five and Ryan Aleshire recorded four.

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