MERCERVILLE, Ohio — It wasn’t exactly the route they wanted to go, but the Rebels reached their ultimate destination nonetheless.
Just one month ago, the South Gallia football team owned a 2-4 record and was coming off a 44-0 loss at Belpre — its largest setback of the 2015 campaign. Four weeks, four wins, 183 points and a little bit of good fortune later, the Red and Gold are headed back to their fourth postseason appearance in the program’s 20 years of existence.
And, in making their first playoff appearance since the 2011 season, SGHS even gets a shot at some revenge.
The eighth-seeded Rebels (6-4) will travel north to Knox County for the second time in their postseason history Friday night as top-seeded Danville (10-0) awaits them in a Division VII, Region 25 quarterfinal at Danville Municipal Park Stadium.
The Rebels dropped a 51-20 decision to the Blue Devils during the opening round of the 2006 playoffs, which proved to be the only time in South Gallia’s previous three postseasons that the Red and Gold scored. SGHS lost 38-0 at River in 2005 and fell 46-0 at Buckeye Central four years ago.
That, however, is South Gallia’s postseason past, and the near-future for this 31-man roster will be something new. The 11 seniors, like the 20 underclassmen, will be participating in their first-ever playoff game.
It will be the second Week 11 gridiron contest for fifth-year SGHS coach Jason Peck, who started as head coach in the fall of the 2011 campaign. Peck was also an assistant on the 2005 and 2006 squads.
After knocking on the Region 25 door over the last few falls, Peck admits that it sure feels good to be able to finally get back into the party.
“Anytime you can meet you primary goal from the beginning of the season, it’s a big thing. The playoffs are always first on our list,” Peck said. “We’re trying to build a program where playoffs are expected every year, and we’ve been close to that the last few years. It has been rough coming so close the last few seasons, so that’s what makes this one even more special. It’s just another step in the right direction for our program.”
The Rebels are averaging 33.6 points per game and 409 total yards offensively, which includes a ground attack that produces nearly 324 yards per outing. Defensively, SGHS is surrendering 26.2 points and 293 total yards per game.
During their major surge over the last four weeks, the Red and Gold have been even better — averaging 45.8 points while producing at least 578 yards of total offense in their last three outings.
There has been adversity, including some in-season suspensions, but the Rebels have become a better team because of what they have endured. It’s that growth, according to Peck, that’s truly made the difference.
“This was a much different feeling than the first time I had a team make the playoffs. We took a different route for sure, but that is probably what makes it even more special,” Peck said. “These kids had to be woken up in the middle of the season at 2-4, and they did wake up. We won a huge road game at Waterford in dramatic fashion, then followed up by scoring 54, 48 and 61 points in our final three games.
“These kids have shown a lot of fight and grown a great a deal this season, and I’m very proud of them for that. We also know that we deserve this opportunity because we earned it.”
What the Rebels have also earned is something just a challenging as being 2-4 and chasing the playoffs, as Danville enters the postseason as this year’s Ohio Associated Press Division VII poll champion.
The Blue Devils are making the program’s fifth straight playoff appearance and 16th overall, as DHS owns an all-time mark of 16-15 in postseason games. The Blue and White also have a pair of state semifinal appearances in 1999 and 2004.
Danville last loss came in the opening round of the 2014 playoffs a year ago after dropping a 27-24 decision to Shadyside. DHS last hosted a playoff game in 2013 and has won its last two postseason games at home.
The Blue Devils allowed points in their first two games and have since posted seven shutouts this fall, and it would have been eight straight shutouts entering the postseason had it not been for a late score in a 49-6 win over Loudonville in Week 8.
Danville is averaging 54.2 points per game offensively and is allowing a mere 3.2 points as a defense. DHS is 5-0 at home, 2-0 against playoff qualifiers and has scored 60 or more points in half of its contests.
The Blue Devils are averaging close to 462 yards of total offense per outing, which includes an aerial assault that produces nearly 311 yards and a ground game that has three rushers with over 175 yards apiece.
Quarterback Ridge Durbin (6-2, 197, SR) has completed 177-of-237 passes for 2,805 yards, 41 touchdowns and four interceptions, and he also has 120 rushes for 771 yards and 14 scores.
Chris Greenawalt and Colt Lyon also have 190 and 180 rushing yards, respectively, on the season, as well as three touchdowns apiece.
The Blue Devils also have seven different receivers with at least 10 catches, led by Kenton Mickley with 55 grabs for 934 yards and 12 touchdowns. Cal Honabarger is next with 51 catches for 865 yards and 17 scores.
Linebacker Hunter Hawkins (5-11, 205, SR) leads the defense with 122 total tackles, which includes four tackles for loss, two sacks and four forced fumbles. Defensive tackle Gunor Doretich (5-8, 205, SR) leads the team with eight sacks.
Peck acknowledges the uphill battle that looms, and he also notes the amount of respect that he has for the Danville program. In fact, he’d like to see his Rebels become somewhat of a reflection of the Blue Devils.
“Danville is an example of what we want to become. They are a class-act program and a hard-nosed football team that people all over the state know about,” Peck said. “They are solid across the board on both sides of the ball, and that defense might be the best in the state at any level. To me, it’s an amazing feat that they’ve given up only five touchdowns for the entire season.
“We know that we have our hands full, but it’s still better than not playing at all. Besides, it will be fun to attack arguably the best team in the state and see how we measure up.”
The Rebels are 2-3 in road games this fall, which includes an 0-3 mark against playoff qualifiers. SGHS lost 28-27 in the season-opener at Sciotoville East, then dropped a 44-12 decision at Trimble in Week 3 and fell 44-0 at Belpre in Week 6.
Peck is hoping for a supporting sea of Red and Gold on Friday night. Early on, it appears that he might just get that wish too.
“My phone didn’t stop ringing until two in the morning Saturday night. Obviously, people are still excited about another playoff game — even if it is the fourth one in school history,” Peck said. “I must say that I still feel truly blessed to be part of this community, having heard how excited the current players, former players, parents, business owners and fans are for this week.
“Every great program needs an even better supporting cast within the community it serves. Honestly, I’d like to think that we have one of the best for that.”
Friday night’s kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.