Lions take easy win over Lancaster in first round of playoffs

By Bru Nimmons
Staff Reporter

CENTRAL — The Daniel Lions had become accustomed to close games entering their first-round playoff matchup against Lancaster on Friday night, but they made sure they didn’t have to put up with another one as they pummeled the Bruins 38-6 to stay undefeated.

“I’m happy to move from the round of 32 to the round of 16,” Daniel coach Jeff Fruster said. “We told these kids all week that this is the time of new life and second chances. To be able to come out of here with a victory is a very good start for us.”

“It’s a great experience to win in the postseason,” Lions quarterback Tyler Venables added. “I’m really thankful for the effort our guys put in this week and the focus that we had.”

Venables sailed a few passes early before settling into a groove and throwing four touchdown passes on the way to the victory.

“I just calmed down and trusted my receivers,” Venables said. “I knew that they could make plays, so I stopped trying to do too much.”

The Lions got off to the perfect start in the game, as Brenton Benson took the opening kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown.

“It’s going to get harder and harder to scheme against people trying to kick it away from our playmakers,” Fruster said.

The Lions had some trouble on the ensuing kickoff, though, allowing Lancaster’s Will Burton to get a big return all the way to the Daniel 34-yard line. The Bruins pounded it from there, with quarterback Sean Truesdale scoring a three-yard touchdown to cap the short drive. The Bruins missed the PAT to keep them behind 7-6 with 8:33 left in the first quarter.

Daniel moved the ball well on their next possession, with Josiah Benson hauling in a big 48-yard snag to get the Lions into Bruin territory. The drive didn’t go much further, though, as Billy Bruce fumbled the ball away to Lancaster.

The Daniel defense came on strong following the turnover, holding the Bruins to minimal gains on first and second down before a sack by Jared Kirksey ended the drive.

The Lions couldn’t be stopped following the stand, driving down the field before adding a 40-yard touchdown pass from Venables to Hack Hamilton.

Daniel easily forced another Bruin punt to get the ball back late in the first. The Lions started off on a tear with Jordan Grayden breaking through for a 30-yard run down to the Lancaster 43. Disaster struck, though, as standout wide receiver Javares Hamilton went down with a serious lower leg injury.

“There’s no update on Javares right now,” Fruster said. “Hopefully we’ll know more a little down the line.”

Despite the loss of Hamilton, the Lions were able to finish the drive following a 29-yard pass from Venables to Benson, leading to a 30-yard Shane Forrester field goal to give Daniel a 17-6 lead going into the second quarter.

The second quarter was all Daniel, starting with an incredible one-handed interception by De’Andre Bradley. Venables went to work, hooking up twice with Brenton Benson, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to increase the Daniel lead to 24-6 with 10:17 left in the second quarter.

After trading punts, the Lions got back on the Bruin side of the field on a 41-yard return by Hack Hamilton. Now on the Lancaster 19, the Lions took just three plays to score on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Venables to Jackson Crosby to give them a 31-6 lead with 3:33 left in the half.

Lancaster was once again forced off the field after a Kirksey and Griffin Batt sack put them behind the chains to give Daniel one more scoring opportunity before the half. The Lions got a big pickup early in the drive on a 21-yard pass from Venables to Josiah Benson. Venables then rifled a 19-yard pass to Crosby for yet another score to give Daniel a 38-6 lead going into halftime.

“Brenton and Jackson did a great job tonight stepping up when we needed them,” Venables said in the wake of the injury to Javares Hamilton. “Javares is a great player and he makes a huge impact on this team. Hopefully we can get him back soon.”

Following the big quarter, a running clock was imposed in the second half and neither team got much movement until the fourth period. There, in the game’s waning minutes, Daniel third-string quarterback Trent Pearman made some big plays.

Pearman connected with Clay Swinney for 21 yards on third and nine as the Lions were trying to run out the clock. Then, facing a fourth and 12, Pearman had a nice pass down the field to Cameron Spadafina for a 28-yard gain and a first down. The Lions kneeled out the ball from there to cement a 38-6 first-round victory.

The Lions will now advance to the second round against a very stout Westwood team that beat higher-seeded Eastside 70-52 last week.

“They’re a really solid team,” Venables said. “We gotta bring our A-game if we want to move on.”

“They’re going to try to come in here and take our future away from us,” Fruster added. “We’re going to need the fans to pack it out for that one.”