There was no happier place late Friday night than the town square in Danville.
Students, fans and alums cheered as the bus carrying the Danville High School football team rolled through town, then celebrated with the team back at the school. The reason for the revelry was a 40-35 win over 13-time state champion Bishop Chatard, a longtime thorn in the side of the Warriors.
“It was a big gathering,” said first-year coach K.C. Woods, himself a Danville alum. “A lot of former players, a lot of fans. It was a lot of fun.”
Perhaps nobody outside of the Danville locker room would have expected it. Class 3A Sectional 29 was as tough as any in the state, but it appeared Chatard had survived the toughest part with wins over Brebeuf Jesuit and Tri-West. Danville had navigated an easier route with victories over Northwest and Greencastle.
There was also this: in 13 previous meetings, Chatard had never lost to Danville. Most were lopsided. A 27-26 Chatard win in the 2002 sectional final was the one that got away.
“I remember being there as a kid,” said Woods, a receiver on Danville’s 2007 team that had won the program’s most recent sectional title before Friday. “People still talk about that game.”
They’ll be talking about Friday’s game for a long time. Just a year removed from a 2-8 season, the Warriors stunned Chatard with a 350-yard, six-touchdown performance from senior quarterback Christian Schabel. Junior Ben Stevens caught eight passes for 171 yards and four of those TDs.
The biggest play of the game may have been a 47-yard TD pass from Schabel to Stevens on Danville’s first drive.
“That was huge,” Woods said. “If that doesn’t happen, it could have gone a couple different ways. We said, ‘Let’s take the ball and try to put up seven points.’ A big part of it was showing we could protect Christian and building that confidence that we could do it.”
Chatard rolled up 306 rushing yards but committed three turnovers. Danville did not turn it over and committed just three penalties.
“We knew we had to play close to perfect and create some explosive plays,” Woods said.
The unranked Warriors (10-2) will now host Lawrenceburg (11-1) in a 3A regional game on Friday. Anything seems possible after Friday’s win.
“Why not us?” Woods said of the team’s mindset. “These kids have bought into the dream and we want to see if we can make some noise in the tournament. I think we’re going to feed off that enthusiasm and energy. I think our kids might be inexperienced enough to not really grasp what they accomplished. I don’t sense their heads are in the sky.”
>> More on Cathedral’s win: Cathedral’s 20-17 overtime sectional championship win over Lawrence Central on Friday was one of the most intense tournament games I’ve covered in recent years. The close score, high stakes and familiarity between the programs added up to a fantastic environment at Tech. (By the way, is there a better place to watch a high school football game than Tech?)
A lot of credit is deserved all the way around to Cathedral for coming back from a 14-0 halftime deficit, on both sides of the ball. The play that sticks with me the most is Quincy Keller’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Luke Sanders to tie the score 14-all with 1:43 in regulation. It was a fourth-and-8, do-or-die play. With only one timeout remaining, Cathedral probably wouldn’t have been able to get the ball back again.
Keller, a senior quarterback who waited his turn behind Max Bortenschlager, was just 4-for-11 passing for 56 yards. In the second half, he was 13-for-21 for 159 yards. It wasn’t a thing of beauty all night, but Keller made a perfect throw to the 6-4 Sanders over the middle. Sanders, who should be an all-state selection at receiver, did the rest and nosed the ball into the end zone.
“We actually didn’t rep that play at all this week,” Sanders said. “But we ran it in the past. It was a fourth-down play that we had to have to win the game, or tie the game I guess. We made it.”
On the other side, Lawrence Central needed that one play to finish off Cathedral. But it might not have come down to that had the Bears cashed in a couple of more opportunities in the first half and put the game out of reach. It was, on one hand, a brutal finish for Lawrence Central in a game that it controlled for much of the night and, on the other, a display of how far the program has come and can go under first-year coach Bill Peebles.
The Bears finished 6-5 with its losses to teams that are all among the eight still remaining in Class 6A – Cathedral, Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove and Warren Central. With players like defensive tackle Kavonta Murray, linebacker Cameron McGrone and safety Manny Bellamy back on defense and quarterback Donyell Meredith and receiver Lashon Bright on offense, the program looks to be on the rise again after three losing seasons.
“We are going in the right direction,” Peebles said.
>> Regional lookahead: The local 6A regional matchups are Carmel (7-4) at Homestead (9-2) on the north side of the bracket and Ben Davis (8-3) versus Cathedral (7-4), at Tech, and Warren Central (10-1) at Center Grove (10-1) in the southern half. The Warren Central-Center Grove matchup is a rematch of the season-opener won by Warren Central 21-16.
In 5A, Westfield (9-2) will host Kokomo (8-2) on the north half and Columbus East (11-1) will play at Zionsville (6-5) on the other side. Roncalli (12-0), the lone local team remaining in 4A, will host Delta (8-4).
In 2A, Cardinal Ritter (8-4) is at Milan (10-2) and Monrovia (8-4) travels to Evansville Mater Dei (8-4) in the southern half of the bracket. Lutheran (9-3) hosts Fountain Central (11-1) in Class A as the lone local team standing.
Of those teams, Zionsville and Danville have gone the longest without winning a regional; both last did it in 2000. Danville won a 2A regional that year before losing to Evansville Mater Dei in the next round. Zionsville went on to the 3A state finals in 2000, losing to Heritage Hills.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.