Danville flexes its muscle
CHAMPAIGN – B.J. Luke has emphasized a defense-first philosophy since returning to his alma mater as football coach in 2005.
He makes certain his Danville defensive platoon is stacked with tenacious linemen, hard-hitting, aggressive linebackers and quickness in the secondary. It's imperative that the players never let up the intensity, and when breaks are needed, he grants them.
The result is that the Vikings' individual offensive statistics pale in comparison to other schools which have a marquee back who receives the bulk of the workload. No Viking entered the seventh game of the season with as much as 375 yards rushing, yet the team overall was generating more than 345 yards per game.
"I don't care if we don't have a dominant back," Luke said. "All three of ours are defensive players. They're all running the same position (tailback), and if you add up what they've gained, it's over 1,000 yards. As a group, I don't know if any team can touch us.
"We throw them out there as we go."
The pattern continued Friday at Champaign's rain-drenched Tommy Stewart Field as the state's third-ranked Class 6A team made Central its seventh consecutive victim this season, 46-0 in a Big 12 Conference contest.
The handoffs were distributed among six Vikings, including four before the running clock went into effect with 14:25 left in the Maroons' homecoming game. In all, the visiting team had 273 total yards, with Justin March the leader with 84 yards.
The story of the game was what Danville did when Central had the ball. The Maroons' first nine possessions ended in punts. By the time Danville's lead reached 40-0 on Malcolm Anderson's 6-yard run, Central had totaled three first downs and showed 29 total yards.
"Our kids come to play defense," Luke said. "That has been the signature of the team and we've come to expect it."
Holding Denzel Stewart to minus-5 yards rushing on nine attempts was par for the course. No Viking opponent has rushed for as much as 100 yards in a game, and Luke couldn't even call Friday's dominating showing the best he's seen in 2009.
"We've had a couple of games where it has been more lights out than tonight," Luke said.
Stewart, slowed by an ankle sprain which occurred 19 days ago, was stopped for negative yards on his first three carries and six of nine overall.
Danville got off to a slow start before March scored the first of his four TDs with 1:01 left in the first quarter. The Vikings fumbled the ball away two plays after MykeTez Forman returned the opening kickoff 13 yards.
Danville averaged more than 5 yards for each of its 43 rushing plays.
"Our offense has been getting better every week," Luke said. "To run like we did in Champaign makes me feel good about where we're going."
The advantage of having Eddie Clark, Mario Crosby and March rotating as ball carriers is that they offer versatility to the offense.
"All three can take snaps (as the quarterback), too," Luke said.
Clark and backup quarterback Keith Guerrero also scored touchdowns for the Vikings.
As Danville has climbed among the state's elite in Class 6A, Luke hasn't dwelled on the rankings compiled by assorted media members from around the state.
"Our kids are a little oblivious to it," he said. "They've bought into making themselves better and taking care of themselves. They come ready to play and it doesn't matter who we're playing.
"One thing that's nice is to see Danville get the notoriety as a community and as a school."
Luke said it's not difficult to keep the rankings in perspective when there's plenty of pressure in each week's game.
"Our conference helps because there's someone to challenge you every week," he said.
The Vikings have two games left – before the playoffs – to capture their sixth unbeaten regular season in the past 40 years. The other 9-0 teams in that span were in 1970, 1971, 1976, 1977 and 1995. The '70 and '71 teams included a player named B.J. Luke.