Lions shut out ‘Cats to stay undefeated

By Rocky Nimmons

SENECA — The Daniel Lions are rolling, with Friday’s game at Greer being the next obstacle that head coach Jeff Fruster hopes will be flattened out on his team’s march to region play at the end of the season.

Last Friday night, old foe Seneca felt what it was like to be thrashed by Fru’s crew, as the mighty Lions steamrolled the Cats 27-0 in front of a huge contingent of Daniel fans who made the trip to Tom Bass Field.

“We are just trying to get to the best possible start that we can,” Fruster said following the shutout. “We are only going to take them one game at a time. I think we are off to a good start, but at the e9-7 Page 1B.inddnd of the day we are just trying to win one game at a time.”

The game with Seneca was close through the opening quarter and a half, with the Lions only leading 3-0. But late in the first half, the Lions got momentum on their side following a huge blocked punt that led to a touchdown. Daniel followed that up with a three-play, 20-second touchdown drive that covered 68 yards just before the half to take control, and the blue and gold never looked back, cruising to a lopsided win over their longtime rivals.

Fruster, like everyone in attendance felt the wind rush out of the Bobcats when the blocked punt occurred.

“We have to find creases when we can,” he said. “The one thing that I have figured out in my short tenure as Daniel head coach is nothing is a given. You have to come out and play every down. That includes special teams as well.”

The Lions lost 35-17 last year to a senior-heavy Seneca squad, but this year the contest saw the Lions with all the experience, and from the get-go this time around it was going to be the Lions’ opportunity for revenge.

The Daniel defense started out on fire and shut the ‘Cats down on their first drive, forcing a punt without allowing Seneca a first down. The Daniel sideline exploded when Brandon Peppers took the kick and split the Seneca punt team, racing right up the gut for an apparent touchdown. The score was not to be, as yellow 9-7 Page 1B.inddflags rained down and the Lions were called for a block in the back penalty that pushed Daniel back to their 38 to start it first series.

Lion quarterback Ben Batson and his unit hit the field and started a drive that lasted eight plays and managed to get down to the Seneca 17. The drive stalled as Batson missed Drew Swinney on a pass, followed by another misfire to Peppers. Fruster decided to call on his kicker, Nick Muchow, and the senior did his job, splitting the uprights from 34 yards out with 6:47 to play in the first quarter to give the Lions a 3-0 advantage.

The game slowed, with the defenses dominating and forcing three and outs on the next possession for both teams.

Seneca tried to answer the Lions’ score early in the second quarter following a 10-play drive that fizzled at the Daniel 31. Bobcat kicker Hunter Pearson missed on the 48-yard field goal attempt, and the Lions took over on their own 20.

Daniel marched the ball 54 yards in nine plays. Big plays included an eight yard toss from Batson to Will Swinney and a big 15-yard pickup after Batson was flushed from the pocket. This time, however, Muchow missed his mark on a 41-yard field goal attempt as the kick was flat, giving the ball back to the ‘Cats.

Neither team could get any real drives started the next two times they had the pigskin.

Seneca took the Lion punt and put the ball in play on the ‘Cats’ 30. A fumble by Jacob Lynn got the drive started off on a bad note, but lucky for Seneca the Bobcats managed to recover the loose ball and retain possession. That play set the drive on its ear. Three plays later, Pearson came on for a punt. The ball was snapped, and Daniel freshman Tyler Venables found a seam and blasted in, blocking the kick then recovering the ball for the Lions at the Seneca 10-yard line.

On the first snap following the block, Fruster told Batson to get in the end zone and the signal caller did just that, keeping and racing the distance with 1:54 to play in the half. The Lions brought in new kicker Eamon Espy, and he added the extra point to making the score 10-0 in favor of Daniel.

That play set the tone for the remainder of the contest, as momentum was now firmly on9-7 Page 1B.indd Daniel’s side.

“I tell the kids all the time momentum is as big a part of the game as anything,” Fruster said.

The Lions’ defensive unit looked to be improving on every snap and again stymied the Cats and forced a punt. This time Pearson’s kick bounced out of bounds without a return, giving the Lions the ball at the Daniel 32 with only 24 seconds before intermission.

On first down Batson took the snap, faded back, then darted downfield, picking up 37 yards down to the Seneca 31-yard line. On second down, he rolled and spied Will Swinney breaking over the middle and threaded a pass for 16 more yards down to the Seneca 15. As time ticked away, Batson again found Swinney open and fired a strike to his favorite receiver for a Daniel TD. The entire drive lasted only 20 seconds. Espy hit the extra point with just four seconds to play in the half, sending the Lions into intermission on top 17-0.

“We were just trying to move to the ball and we caught a couple of good breaks and ended up scoring right before the half,” Fruster said. “Every now and then you are going to get some balls that bounce your way. We were definitely trying to score, but we caught a couple of fortunate breaks on that drive, too.”

In the third quarter, Seneca got close enough to try a 44-yard field goal, but Pearson’s try hit the goal post and bounced out. That was as close as the Lions would let the Bobcats get for the remainder of the contest.

Daniel added points 12 seconds into the fourth quarter on a 60-yard drive that lasted nine plays. The drive was helped along midway through by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Bobcats. The drive stalled at the Seneca 12, and Fruster sent Espy on for a 29-yard field goal try. The kick was good with 11:48 to play, pushing the Lions’ lead to 20-0.

The final points of the night came on a bruising 72-yard drive by the Lions late in the contest. For Daniel it was all ground and pound, as Batson and running backs Billy Bruce and Kiandre Sims followed the Lions’ massive offensive front to paydirt. Bruce picked up 25 yards on three rushes, while Sims added 23 more on four times carrying the rock. Batson rushed the pigskin six times on the drive for 20 yards, including the final 12 for a touchdown with 2:38 to play. Espy drilled the PAT to give the Lions a 27-0 lead.

The Lion defense continued to dominate, picking up its first shutout of the season.

“I am proud of our defense,” Fruster said. “We gave up a good bit of yards, but at the end of the day no scores is no scores.”

The Lions now must travel to Greer to face Daniel grad Will Young’s Yellow Jackets.

“We will be going down to see old Will (Young), and he will be glad to host us,” Fruster said. “His mind will be the same as ours is — we have to get that win.”

Fruster knows his team will have to be road warriors again this week.

“It is easy to try to get them to defend their home turf,” he said. “Now we have to go on the road with our opponents having that same mentality. Going to Greer is not going to be an easy task. Greer is a formidable opponent. They always have been. They have been putting together good teams year after year. We are going to have our hands full.”

Fruster though encourages all the Lion faithful to make the trip to help the team.

“I love seeing the crowd on the road now,” he said. “Any time you can bring the fans on the road and try to equal out the momentum that a home crowd can create, I think that is key. So a big shout out to our fans for showing up here tonight and cheering us on. They had better be there next Friday at Greer, because we are going to need all the help we can get.”

Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. at Greer’s Dooley Field.