Of all things, it was a safety that set Louisville Christian on its way to the school’s first football title in the Class 2A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl state finals Sunday afternoon at Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium. The Centurions, making their title-game debut, defeated Danville, 24-6.
Louisville Christian held just a 2-0 advantage at halftime thanks to a Danville snap that sailed through the back of the end zone for a safety in the opening minutes of the second quarter. The Centurions (14-1) punted on their first five possessions and turned the ball over on downs on their final one of the first half.
Box score: Louisville Christian 24, Danville 6
Bad breaks plagued Danville (12-3) in the first half. In addition to the safety, the Admirals missed a field goal on their first drive, had a ball intercepted in the end zone with a receiver in the area on their second, and missed a second field goal in the final minute of the half.
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Danville Coach Clay Clevenger called it a tale of two halves from there; Louisville Christian scored 22 straight (including another safety) before D’mauriae VanCleave caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Zack Dampier to prevent Danville’s first finals shutout.
“(In) the first half we were able to move the football some and were in pretty good down and distance and field position,” Clevenger said. “We weren’t able to capitalize. The third quarter especially, it was a flip.”
Sophomore receiver Milton Wright caught two TDs for Louisville Christian in the third period. He threw one in the opening minute of the fourth to put the Centurions up 24-0. Wright, named MVP of the game, finished with 84 yards on three catches and 23 rushing yards on two carries. He also had three tackles for the defense, which finished its season allowing just 11.3 points per game.
It was just the second state team title in any sport for Louisville Christian, whose football program began 19 years ago. Coach Stefan LeFors said the locker room was disappointed at halftime despite holding a lead.
“The mood in there was so down. It was like we were down 28 to nothing,” LeFors said. “ ... We felt like we put ourselves in a hole, so to speak.”
He thought his team took Danville’s best punch in the first half. A stout frontline anchored by senior ends Jake Paulson and K.C. Purvis was able to overwhelm the undersized Admirals down the stretch.
Danville graduates only five seniors from its roster, one of which is Dampier. The Ads quarterback finished 19-for-35 for 163 yards.
“He was a special talent that you might not get back ever again, really,” Clevenger said of Dampier.
Louisville Christian’s only loss was 41-14 to Simon Kenton, a Class 6A semifinalist, in its season-opener. Two weeks later it demolished Central, this year’s Class 3A runner-up, 44-14. Lefors knew then his unit could be capable of something special.
“I knew we had some young guys in some key spots that I knew had to grow up quick,” LeFors said, “and throughout the course of the year they got better and better and better.”