There was one word Danville Head Football Coach Clay Clevenger used to describe how he felt after his team’s performance against Wayne County (1-2) on Friday night. He was, simply, “proud.”
Despite playing without two defensive starters, losing their starting running back before halftime and facing two double digit deficits, Danville fought back to top Wayne County 28-24 in a game that showed the Admirals’ heart and determination.
Clevenger knew coming into the game his Admirals would have their hands full against one of the state’s best running backs. Wayne County senior Braedon Sloan’s name is littered all across the Kentucky High School Athletic Association record books. Last season alone, Sloan had three different games where he rushed for 300 or more yards—including a 407 yard, seven touchdown performance against Corbin in the state quarterfinals.
And when Sloan ran into the end zone from 45 yards out to put Wayne County up 13-0 midway through second quarter, Clevenger wanted to ensure his team knew the game was far from over.
“The biggest thing is you just wanna keep your head up and keep playing,” Clevenger said. “Just keep playing, keep plugging and hopefully we can make some plays.”
And the Admirals did just that.
Faced with the prospect of being down two scores and having to kick off to Wayne County to begin the second half, Danville desperately needed a late score to end the first half. And they got it.
Following Sloan’s touchdown run, Danville marched down the field on a nine play, 69 yard drive that ended in the end zone after Caleb Burns scored from 18 yards out to trim the Wayne County lead to 13-7 heading into the locker room.
But at halftime, Clevenger told his Admirals they would be without Burns for the remainder of the game. And then he issued a challenge.
“I challenged them. I challenged Corydon (Crawford). I challenged Sage (Dawson). I challenged Bryce (Johnson),” Clevenger said. “When we were told that Caleb (Burns) didn’t need to play in the second half you kind of saw the guys’ heads drop a little bit. So we just had to get them going and challenge them a little bit. And I feel like they answered the call.”
Danville started out holding Wayne County’s offense to a three and out but on their ensuing drive a tipped pass resulted in an interception. The Cardinals then drove down the field, but were stifled near the end zone and settled for a Patrick Radilla 25-yard field goal, increasing their lead back to two scores, 16-7, with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter.
And with their backs against the wall, Danville again responded.
It took the Admirals all of two plays to get back in the end zone—an 11 yard pass from Dawson to Bryce Johnson put Danville on the Wayne 45-yard line. Then one play later, Dawson hit Crawford, who juked a defender, raced toward the far sideline and 45 yards into the end zone to cut the Wayne County lead to 16-14.
Then, as Clevenger said, one of the biggest plays of the game happened. But it wasn’t a play that will be seen in the box score.
On the ensuing drive, Wayne County quarterback Brody Weaver threw a deep pass that, despite great coverage by Crawford, was pulled in by Cardinals receiver Wesley Cares. Cares only had one man to out-run to the endzone: Danville defensive back Jalen Dunn. Dunn, though, caught Cares from behind and tripped him up at the 22-yard line preventing what would have been a sure touchdown.
“Those are plays that sometimes you forget about when you’re watching the game but that was a huge play,” Clevenger said.
The reason it was so big? One play later, Weaver tried a quarterback sneak and as he went down the ball popped out. In the mess of bodies, it was Danville’s Alex Gutierrez-Jacobs who recovered the fumble, giving the ball back to the Admirals.
“That (Dunn’s tackle) was a winning play,” Clevenger said.
Danville again took advantage. Dawson found Bryce Johnson for 34 yards and 14 yards to move the ball down the field and the Admirals shortly thereafter found themselves inside the Wayne County 10 yard line. On first and goal from the five, the Ads took their first lead of the game on a Dawson five yard quarterback draw.
Wayne County answered back almost immediately as the ensuing drive was capped by another Sloan touchdown run, this one coming from 47 yards out to give the Cardinals the lead back at 24-21.
“I told the kids going into the game that this is how this game was going to be,” Clevenger said. “We were going to have to score points to win. He (Sloan) was going to make some plays and there was going to be some times where he was going to bust a run.”
However, the Admirals responded, again—but it came with some drama. Down 24-21, the Admirals had the ball at the Wayne County one yard line and faced a fourth down and one. A chip shot field goal would tie it at 24—but instead, Clevenger and the Admirals went for the lead. Dawson lined up in shotgun and after taking the snap, decided to try a quarterback sneak. It worked and Dawson’s second touchdown run of the night gave Danville a 28-24 lead after Zachary Morgan’s extra point.
After the two teams traded possessions, Wayne County had one more chance. With two seconds left, Wayne County took the ball and attempted a hook and ladder play. Cares caught the ball, then lateraled it behind to Sloan—who then reversed field. The Admiral defense over pursued and it appeared as if Sloan was going to have room to run. Danville nose guard Hagen Burns ensured Sloan wouldn’t have room to run. Burns trailed the play and sprinted 15 yards down field to tackle Sloan from behind and preserved Danville’s 28-24 win.
“Our kids just continued to battle and to fight and at the end of the day we made enough plays to win the football game,” Clevenger said.
Now the Admirals will make their second two-plus hour road trip in three weeks as they head to Allen County- Scottsville to take on the 2-1 Patriots. A win would give Danville their first 3-0 start since 2017, the year the Admirals won the Class 2A state championship.