These are not the games that Bill DiNardo and John Wilson would have chosen to play.
But as the coaches of Delaware’s two largest private-school football teams, sometimes they have to take what they can get.
This week is one of those times. DiNardo’s Salesianum team left Thursday for a 335-mile trip to Steubenville, Ohio, which sits about 40 miles west of Pittsburgh on the Ohio-West Virginia border.
The Steubenville Big Red are one of Ohio’s most legendary high school football programs, with 19 undefeated seasons since 1925. They play home games at 10,000-seat Harding Stadium, also known as Death Valley because the Big Red are 69-4 there over the last 10 seasons. Kickoff is at 7 tonight.
“We’re going into a big-time high school environment,” DiNardo said. “We’re going into a really big stadium with rabid fans. The whole town comes out and supports this high school team on Friday nights.”
Wilson’s St. Mark’s Spartans face a shorter trip, but an even tougher opponent. Paramus Catholic (N.J.) is in the top 10 in most national high school football rankings. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Paladins are led by 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive back Jabrill Peppers, who has committed to Michigan and is ranked by most recruiting experts as one of the nation’s top three senior prospects. Paramus Catholic (4-0) has already beaten Baltimore powerhouse Gilman 28-0 and Cleveland’s St. Ignatius – long one of Ohio’s top programs – 44-10. So the Spartans (4-1) have realistic expectations.
“They’re good,” Wilson said. “The Peppers kid is one of the best players I’ll probably ever coach against. … Ultimately, if we come out of this game healthy, it will only make us better.
“That’s how we’re looking at it. Let’s not make it two losses, where we’re so banged up that when we come back and face Sallies we don’t have enough to compete with the guys we should be competing with.”
The Spartans and Sals will meet each other next Friday. But first comes two long trips to play two powerful teams, because neither coach could schedule enough in-state opponents.
“We couldn’t find anyone,” Wilson said. “There was St. Ignatius out in Ohio, but I’d rather travel two hours than 7½ hours.”
Even with St. Mark’s desperation, the Spartans could only find nine games.
The last week of the regular season is open, and Wilson is hoping to schedule a Pennsylvania team that doesn’t make the state playoffs to fill that date.
“It’s one of those things where if we play and lose, it could cost us the tournament,” Wilson said. “But at this point, we’re just trying to line up a game for the kids and not worry about any of those things. We’d like to play if we can find somebody.”
Both of these games are one-year deals, so Steubenville and Paramus Catholic won’t be coming to Delaware next season.
Sallies has been to Steubenville before, losing 25-15 on a rainy day in 1988.
The Big Red (6-1) already have a home loss this season, 37-21 against Massillon Washington, another traditional Ohio power.
The Sals are 4-1 after falling 28-20 at Poly Prep Country Day, one of New York’s top private-school teams, in Brooklyn last Friday.
“We had a lot of penalties and we gave up a lot of big plays,” DiNardo said. “There were times we looked great, and times we didn’t look great. We need to be more consistent. If we’re consistent, we’re good.”
The Sals will be driven home after tonight’s game and expect to arrive around 6 a.m. Saturday. A victory would boost Delaware’s high school football reputation and make the trip a little shorter.
“The only promise I can make is we’re going out there to try to win the ballgame,” DiNardo said. “We’re not going out there to try to be competitive. We’re not going out there to try to give a good fight and prepare for later on. We’re going out there to try to get a ‘W.’ “