Football coaches always say a game will come down to turnovers.
Delmar turned the ball over four times in the first half Friday night. Indian River made the Wildcats pay every time and roared to a 42-22 home victory that clinched the Henlopen South championship and a berth in the DIAA Division II state tournament.
The Indians (6-3, 5-1) knew they had a chance to be the first team to hand Delmar (8-1, 4-1) a loss this season. But no one expected Indian River to blow out to a 42-9 halftime lead.
“That was as good a half as I’ve seen a football team play in a long time,” Indians coach Ray Steele said. “Everything went our way. Everything worked for us.”
The fireworks started on the third play of the game, when IR running back KiAnte Sturgis sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
A penalty negated a 40-yard punt return by Sturgis and pushed the Indians inside their own 5. Two plays later, the Wildcats’ Donovan Taylor pulled down IR’s Tim Roberts in the end zone for a safety. Delmar’s Shane Leatherbury returned the ensuing free kick to the IR 36, and Jordan Brown scored from the 5 five plays later to push the Wildcats ahead 9-7 with 3:56 left in the first quarter.
But it was all Indian River from there, as the Indians unleashed a five-touchdown barrage over the next 16 minutes. Sturgis started it was a 40-yard burst around the right end to put the Indians back on top, 14-9.
Then DeAndre Cooper recovered a Delmar fumble, and Spencer Murray threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Roberts. Devin Burke pounced on another Wildcats fumble, and Sturgis cashed it in with a 15-yard scoring run to push the lead to 28-9.
Delmar tried to go to the air late in the first half, but the results were disastrous. IR’s Kei Juan Major returned an interception 40 yards to the Wildcats’ 28. Three plays later, Murray connected with London Tucker for a 24-yard score and a 35-9 lead with 1:12 left in the half.
The Wildcats again threw on their next play from scrimmage, and Major was in the perfect spot for a diving pickoff at the Delmar 33. Two plays later, Sturgis screamed around the left side for a 27-yard score – his fourth of the first half – to make it 42-9.
“We scored off of those [interceptions], so they were big plays,” Major said. “We’re really happy to get that ‘W.'”
The Indian River offensive line of Tristan Smyth, Joseph Anderson, Joost Elling, Burke and Brandon Almony paved the way for Sturgis to rush 15 times for 183 yards – 176 in the first half.
“We knew he was going to be special,” Steele said of Sturgis. “He’s only a sophomore. He’s not a real big back, but he’s very quick and he’s strong enough to run through tackles.”
The Wildcats scored a couple of second-half touchdowns on Leatherbury’s 5-yard run and Jonah Vincent’s 1-yard plunge. But the Indians were happy to cruise to the finish line and collect their third consecutive Henlopen South title.