Behind VanCleave, Danville wins Class 2A championship
  


Admirals claim first state championship since 2003

LEXINGTON -- Danville capped its remarkable 2017 football season with a 35-21 win over Mayfield on Saturday afternoon in the Class 2A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl championship at the University of Kentucky's Kroger Field.

The Admirals, who finish the year with a perfect 15-0 record, captured their first state title since 2003 and improved to 11-4 all-time in state championship games. They also improved to 5-0 all-time against the Cardinals (13-2) when meeting them in the finals.

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Danville was led by its explosive all-around athlete in running back D'Mauriae VanCleave, who performed at a high level on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the senior rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns while finishing with 42 yards and a TD receiving in addition to a 60-yard punt return score. Defensively, VanCleave recorded a pair of interceptions.

"We made enough plays to win," Danville coach Clay Clevenger said. "We've played pretty good defense in the playoffs -- and all year really -- and I feel like we came to play tonight."

Danville held a slim 7-2 lead after the opening quarter and then trailed 8-7 early in the second quarter. From that point, the Admirals dominated and outscored Mayfield 21-0 while also forcing four turnovers to seal the victory.

The Admirals struck first with a lengthy nine-play, 81-yard drive that took 3:22 off the clock that ended with a six-yard TD pass from Zach Thornton to VanCleave. On the Admirals' opening series, the explosive running back rushed for 18 yards to go along with his first reception of the afternoon while Thornton completed both of his passes for 18 yards of his own.

Mayfield earned its first points with under a minute left in the first quarter, scoring on a safety. Danville was facing 2nd and 14 at its own 1 and tried to run with Donlevy Harris, but Devin Jefferies brought him down inside the end zone to make it 7-2. Then, soon after, the Cardinals took an 8-7 lead on Jaden Stinson's 73-yard TD pass to Jordan Harrison early in the second.

VanCleave's 67-yard rushing score at the 11:22 mark of the quarter put the Admirals back in front at 14-8. VanCleave received the ball on a reverse and sprinted down the right sideline untouched before crossing the pylon.

"He's fast, isn't he?," Clevenger said in regards to VanCleave. "He's a playmaker. He's a special football player."

Just before the end of the second, Danville scored on a controversial play, which was an 11-yard strike from Thornton to Jaleel Warren, who was in the right corner of the end zone and near the out-of-bounds line. Warren's incredible reception sent the Admirals into the locker room with a 21-8 lead.

Another big play by VanCleave -- this time a 60-yard punt return TD -- pushed Danville's advantage to 28-8 at the 5:23 mark of the third. At that point, he was up to 88 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving with a pair of interceptions to go along with the score off the punt return.

"Like coach says, defense wins championships," VanCleave said. "That showed today."

The Cardinals were able to score twice in the fourth compared to Danville's one, but the Admirals were already in control for the remainder of the affair.

"It just means everything to me and my team," said VanCleave. "We worked hard to get here from preparations in practice to 6 AMs. It means everything to us. Just getting back here and finishing just means everything to us."

Senior writer Tyler Mansfield can be reached at mansfield.sportingtimes@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_TylerMansfield.