Remember that Salesianum-St. Mark’s football game two weeks ago? The one that was for bragging rights for the next 365 days?
Turns out, it was basically meaningless.
Sallies won 7-2 on Nov. 9. But that will mean nothing at 7:30 tonight when the teams reconvene at Baynard Stadium in the semifinals of the DIAA Division I Football State Tournament. With many alumni in town for Thanksgiving weekend, the crowd could be even bigger than last time.
“We could be playing a card game and sell out Baynard Stadium if it was Sallies against St. Mark’s,” Sals coach Bill DiNardo said. “This is going to be big.”
The winner advances to the Division I championship game Dec. 1 at Delaware State University. The loser has a long time to think about what went wrong.
Sallies (9-1) won the first meeting despite being outgained 171-7 in the second half. The Sals did it by putting together a touchdown drive in the first quarter, then intercepting four passes inside their own 20-yard line, including two in the end zone.
“We played really well to beat them the first time,” DiNardo said. “The second time, there has to be adjustments. Both teams are going to make adjustments. They’re going to tell their kids that they turned the ball over five times and still, they were in the game. They only lost 7-2.
“From my standpoint, we played a horrific game offensively and we still won. There will be things both teams will look at and try to improve.”
The Spartans (9-2) only rushed for 43 yards the first time. St. Mark’s quarterback Zach Whitehead completed 18 of 32 passes for 257 yards, but five turnovers kept the Spartans off the board.
“I hope we can run the ball better this time,” St. Mark’s coach John Wilson said. “… We weren’t as balanced as I like to be. We threw quite a few times, and we didn’t want to be put in that position. We’re going to try to avoid that if we can.”
The Sals should get a boost from the return of 6-foot-3, 230-pound Troy Reeder, who was Sallies’ leading rusher (580 yards) before missing three games with a foot injury. He is expected to start at linebacker and rotate with Andrew McClelland (624 yards) at running back.
This is the third rematch between the teams in the last four years. In 2009, Sallies beat St. Mark’s 28-9 during the regular season, then won again 27-20 three weeks later in the Division I championship game. In 2010, St. Mark’s returned the favor with a 28-14 win in the regular season, and a 24-10 victoryin the state semifinals.
“It’s a rivalry beyond compare,” DiNardo said. “And the fact that we’ve got to get up and do it again, that’s awfully tough, for both teams. But it’s a great situation.”
The Spartans defeated Cape Henlopen 21-7 in the opening round to set up the rematch, holding the Vikings to just 85 rushing yards on 36 carries. The Sallies defense is just as tough, led by linebackers Tommy Wilmoth (84 tackles, four sacks), Randall Schiccatano (62 tackles) and Daulton Gregory (44 tackles), 6-foot-6 defensive end Brian O’Neill (27 tackles) and McClelland (44 tackles, two interceptions) in the secondary.
“I think it will come down to the front lines, and who can control the line of scrimmage and convert those plays to keep the chains rolling,” Wilson said. “You might have a few big plays, but I wouldn’t expect a lot.”