Record-setting duo hope to lead Ironmen to 4th straight district title

Nov. 10—It's just a coincidence, but it's amusing that a football offense that's putting up video-game-like numbers this season is triggered by a quarterback named Madden.

It hasn't been so amusing for opposing defenses who might have thought a Danville offense that lost its all-state quarterback, wide receiver, offensive lineman and running back might take a step back after a 12-1 year, that ended with a last-second loss in the state quarterfinals.

"When you lose people like Mason (Raup), Ty (Stauffer), Zach (Gordon) and Carson (Persing), they're tough to replace," Danville junior quarterback Madden Patrick said. "But there were a whole bunch of young guys that were a big part of that team that kind of went unnoticed."

That is certainly no longer the case. Danville makes its sixth district semifinal appearance in the last seven seasons tonight as a team with much larger goals: A fourth straight district championship and maybe even getting to Cumberland Valley in December.

Both Patrick and Aaron Johnson, a senior, have a chance to make history tonight in the District 4 Class 3A semifinal game at 7 p.m. with Lewisburg.

Patrick needs one more touchdown pass to tie Selinsgrove's Logan Leiby's record of 42 set in 2017. Johnson has 23 receiving touchdowns, and also needs one score to tie the Danville single-season record and District 4 record set just last season by Persing with 24.

"Records like that are only going to come if everybody is doing their job. They are great things to have," Patrick said. "But I wouldn't be in this position without my teammates."

Johnson needs 95 yards receiving to break the school single-season record of 1,225 set by Persing in 2020. He needs just four touchdown receptions for the state single-season record of 27 set by Central Martinsburg's Eli Lingenfelter last season and Allentown Central Catholic's Kevin Guylas in 2011. Johnson also needs four grabs for 100 in his career.

"Breaking Carson's records never really crossed my mind. I'm just playing to win (football games)," Johnson said. "Records aren't really a big thing to me. How successful this season is all depends on how far we can go. We want to win a state championship."

Both players entered 2023 with plenty of varsity experience. Patrick was the starting quarterback in the 2021 district championship game and threw for 1,357 yards and 13 scores as Gordon's injury replacement.

"Playing in my freshman year was really great in the moment," Patrick said. "But it also really prepared me for now as well."

Johnson was a Swiss Army knife on offense for the last three years for the Ironmen. Nominally a wide receiver, he moved to tailback in the 2020 season when Stauffer was hurt, and even did split kicking duties for last year's team. Johnson is the only player in Danville history with 1,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career passing yards, but he's become unstoppable in the slot this season.

He's had 14 catches in the last four games for Danville, and 12 of them have gone touchdowns. He's also added a pair of defensive touchdowns in that stretch.

"I'd do anything to help the team, but I do think staying in one spot on offense (Johnson did play Wildcat quarterback for a final series in the regular-season win over Loyalsock — running for the game-winning touchdown — when Patrick was hurt) has helped me (this season)," Johnson said. "I've gotten used to seeing the field this season (from the slot)."

Talking to Gordon and Persing last year, and now Patrick and Johnson this season, it's not hard to see the similarities between the two duos on the football field. The record-setting numbers, the friendship and connection built from playing years of football together from midgets through varsity.

"We only lost two games in midgets, and won two Super Bowls," Patrick said. "We've always been competitive, and been on the field to win. We were breaking down film in fourth grade to make sure we won. We have fun, we compete, but if we are playing a game, we are both playing to win."

That bond on the field results in a wordless connection that's become deadly for local defenses.

"When we get into the formation, we look at the defense to see if it's man or zone," Johnson said. "Madden and I are usually on the same page, and both immediately know what route I'm going to run. He knows my speed, and I know how far he can throw.

"The chemistry has always just been there."

Danville coach Carl Majer added, "Madden called me over earlier this year to show me a clip of Aaron catching a touchdown pass from him in T-Railers. You can see it on the field, in their connection, how long they've been playing with each other."

Patrick and Johnson have been an integral part of Danville's successes in vying for a fourth straight district title. Even though he was in eighth grade for the 2020 title, Patrick spent the postseason around the team, and on the sideline.

"The former staff — Coach (Mike) Brennan — they turned us from young kids into young men," Patrick said. "That 2020 team set a tone for everybody that season. It was the COVID year, but it taught us about what hard work can bring us."

Heading into the backstretch of the 2023 season, both plan to play football in college. Patrick said he's been getting calls from Ivy League and Patriot League schools, and went on a visit to Maryland earlier this fall.

"I'm glad I'm getting noticed, and my hard work is paying off. It wasn't in my plan to play wide receiver last year, but it was the man upstairs' plan, and I feel that's really helped this season (at quarterback)," Patrick said. "I'd just really like to play college football at a good academic school."

Johnson echoed that he plans to play football in college.

"There have been some different people looking at me since I started putting up these numbers this season," Johnson said. "I definitely want to take advantage of it."