As arguably the state’s best football conference this season, the Henlopen North race has been a four-team brawl all year.
Caesar Rodney had a chance to end the suspense last week but lost to Cape Henlopen, 14-13. But there is good news for the Riders: They have another chance to wrap it up with a win at Dover on Friday night.
“Ultimately, it’s down to Caesar Rodney,” CR coach Mike Schonewolf said. “If Caesar Rodney wins, the case is closed. All the tiebreakers kick in, and we’re the conference champions.”
If the Riders lose, Sussex Central would be the conference champion. Cape Henlopen could still finish in a three-way tie with CR and Sussex Central but would lose in all the tie-breaking scenarios. While all three teams could claim they are conference champions, only CR or Sussex Central can earn the automatic berth in the DIAA Division I Football Tournament.
Just getting to this point has been fun to watch. Sussex Central has finished conference play at 5-1, while CR and Cape are 4-1. All of their losses have come to each other. And Dover, the state’s No. 1 team in The News Journal’s preseason rankings, is 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference after losing to Sussex Central and Cape in back-to-back weeks.
“Dover is an excellent football team who has just had misfortune fall their way,” Schonewolf said. “… They’re explosive. They have athletes on both sides of the ball. They can make things happen at any time. They’ve had some unfortunate things happen in games that perhaps cost them a win.”
The Senators would love to beat the Riders (6-3) in any sport at any time, and nothing would be sweeter than winning a football game to deprive CR of a conference title. Schonewolf embraces the crosstown rivalry.
“It’s a real neat thing for high school football to be able to have two schools, two teams, two towns, two areas that have competed against one another so often,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of that in our world with the way the schools have changed over time. It used to be it was your town against the other town. In some places, that has disappeared. It’s neat to still have it here.”
Sussex Central (7-2) will finish the regular season with a nonconference game on Friday night. But it’s a huge one, as the Golden Knights host Henlopen South champion Indian River (8-1). The schools are located just nine miles apart, and no one expects to see an empty seat in Georgetown at the 7:30 kickoff.
“They’ve still got a shot at winning the [Henlopen] North,” IR coach Ray Steele said of Sussex Central. “Last year, we called it the Henlopen Conference championship game. Could be the same thing this year.”
Last year, the Indians downed the Golden Knights 47-17 on the way to a 12-0 season and the Division II state championship.
This year, Indian River would likely earn a No. 1 or No. 2 playoff seed with a victory. But with the Division II playoffs being expanded to eight teams, a high seeding would earn the Indians a couple of home games but no first-round bye.
“It’s certainly a good tuneup for the tournament,” Steele said. “Last year, we had a bye, so we had a week to kind of get over the big win against them. This year, we don’t get a bye, so if you’re coming off that emotional high, can you do it two weeks in a row? If you lose, do you create doubts?
“Because of that, I’ve got mixed emotions about it now. It’s nice to play our rivalry game at the end, but at the same time, I hope it doesn’t take away any of our focus for the tournament.”