NEWARK — Danville head coach Ed Honabarger wouldn’t say how different it is to coach a team so used to being in the playoffs.
He would admit, however, that the style of coaching changes during the year.
“We try to rest physically and do more mental things,” he said. “You need to have fresh bodies ready for the game.”
The Blue Devils will look to qualify for their second straight Division VII regional final — third in the past five years — when they face Canal Winchester Harvest Prep today at White Field in Newark. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
It’s been business as usual for Danville as the team prepares for its 13th playoff game in six years. The two teams met in the regional semis last year, with the Blue Devils winning, 38-20. Harvest Prep running back Dan Bangura, then a sophomore, torched the Devils for 277 yards and three touchdowns.
The Warriors were much the same team then as they are now — only now, they’re a year older.
So is Bangura, who has rushed for 3,338 yards on 270 carries. USA Today lists him as the leading rusher in the entire country.
“He’s going to get his yards. We’re going to have to get used to that,” Honabarger said. “But, our biggest thing is, we have to limit his big plays. If we can limit him to, say, breaking one long run.”
The task of stopping Bangura will fall on the Danville defense, which has been steadily improving all year. Once mired with questions after a three-game losing streak netted 92 points against them, the Blue Devils responded by allowing just 29 points in the next five games. Last week, they defeated Sciotoville East, 55-27, but two of those touchdowns given up were in desperation time in the fourth quarter.
“It took them a while to get comfortable with their roles on defense,” Honabarger said. “Remember, not many of those guys had varsity experience. It took a few games, but they started figuring it out. It was all about adjusting to the varsity speed.”
Offensively, Skyler Durbin has improved tremendously. Once listed as having one of the lowest passer ratings in the area around midseason, Durbin has emerged as the offense’s true leader. Last week against Sciotoville East, Durbin was 16-of-27 for 224 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran the ball 25 times for 162 yards and two more scores.
“He (Durbin) started seeing things better,” Honabarger said. “Once he stopped trying to be like (his brother) Ridge and Bryce (Staats), he came on.”
The Blue Devils haven’t been to two straight regional finals since 2002.
“They’re ready,” Honabarger said. “They recognize the magnitude of the game.”