NEWARK — Brant Neitzelt lay face down on the field, clutching his leg.
The Danville center was injured on a play in which Harvest Prep intercepted its second pass of the second half. Saturday’s Division VII regional semifinal had been going the Blue Devils’ way, but that play pretty much sealed the team’s fate.
No matter. Neitzelt refused to leave the game.
“We didn’t even ask him,” Danville coach Ed Honabarger said. “We knew what his answer would be.”
The Blue Devils, who had been improving week by week since mid-season, finally ran into a juggernaut they couldn’t stop. Harvest Prep junior Daniel Bangura, the current national leader in rushing yards, gained 453 yards on the ground in the Warriors’ 44-21 victory at White Field in Newark.
Bangura scored four touchdowns on Saturday. His first came on an 81-yard run in the first quarter. He added a 74yard score in the third quarter. He later scored from three yards out, then again from 17 yards away on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“Big runs were our biggest fear,” Honabarger said. “I thought we did a good job at making him earn that. We were hoping to limit him to one or two big runs, but we wanted them to be, like, 30-yarders, not 70-yarders.
“We knew what formations he would run from and how he would run, but he did a good job in bending runs back. He’s a special kid.”
Skyler Durbin responded to the first score with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Corbin Hazen to give the Blue Devils a 7-6 lead. They expanded that lead on the final play of the first when Durbin rumbled for 33 yards and another touchdown.
Despite allowing a gametying score late in the half, the Devils entered the locker room with high spirits and high hopes.
But, for Danville, there was nothing positive about the second half.
After a half in which Durbin completed 10 out of 16 passes for 140 yards, he went on to complete just 2 out of 11 in the second half for minus-3 yards and two interceptions.
“They did a better job of getting pressure with just four people,” Honabarger said. “Against the spread, if you can do that and drop seven people back, you can be pretty effective.”
After allowing two touchdowns in the Warriors’ first two drives, the Blue Devils’ offense received a boost when Chris Greenawalt began getting the bulk of the carries. He finished the game with nine rushes for 67 yards.
But the Danville defense continued to struggle with Bangura and the rest of the Warriors. Bangura, who went to the locker at halftime with 180 yards, had 177 yards in the third quarter alone. He averaged 10.6 yards per carry for the game.
Bangura also showed another dimension to his talent by completing two passes for a pair of two-point conversions.
Harvest Prep quarterback Jamal Lipsey was 7-of-16 for 39 yards. He rushed for 78 yards on 13 carries and scored twice.
Hazen had four catches for 26 yards. Tyler Mickley caught four balls for 34 yards.
Danville (8-4) scored its final touchdown on a 1-yard carry by Durbin with 7:58 to go in the game.
As for Neitzelt, he stayed on the field in part because it was his final shot. That was also true for fellow seniors Devon Morton, Justus Brady, Jordan Stimpert, Zach Winings, Trevor Payne and Grant Hauger. The group led a team that, following the graduation of 17 players the year before, had a lot of inexperience and even more question marks. But the team exceeded many expectations, in part because of the seniors’ leadership.
“These are great kids,” Honabarger said. “A lot of them stayed with it. They had some good classes in front of them, so it’s easy to get discouraged. But, the thing is, they showed up in practice all the time, and they got better. They grabbed their chance.
“They’re great workers. They’re all going to be successful because they have a great work ethic.”