After more than 48 minutes, 76 points and 763 yards of football, where do we begin?
Let’s fast forward to the end of Salesianum’s 41-35, overtime victory over Caesar Rodney Saturday night at Baynard Stadium.
As we speed through the tape, we’ll see that Sallies led 7-0 and 7-6. Then CR led 14-7. Then it was tied at 14. Then CR led 21-14. Then it was tied at 21. Then CR led 28-21. Then it was halftime.
Then it was tied at 28. Then CR led 35-28. Then it was tied at 35. Then CR missed a 24-yard field-goal attempt. Then Sallies missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt. Then it went to overtime.
Since both teams get four downs from the 10-yard line in OT, there was every right to believe seven or eight more touchdowns could be scored before somebody won.
It only took one. The Sals held the Riders to 1 yard on two running plays, then foiled two passes. All they had to do was score, and many thought they would try a 27-yard field goal on their first play. Star tight end Brian O’Neill doubles as Salesianum’s kicker, and he already was 5 for 5 on extra points. One of those came from 35 yards away, due to a penalty after the Sals’ fourth touchdown.
But that’s not how they do it at Salesianum.
“I thought about [a field goal], but I thought with our running game and the way we’d been running the ball between the tackles in the second half, I thought we could punch it in,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said.
So 230-pound battering ram Troy Reeder gained 3 yards. Then 200-pound bruiser Daulton Gregory gained 5. Then Gregory gained 1 2⁄3.
It was fourth down. But with a foot to go, DiNardo wasn’t going to let O’Neill’s foot decide it.
“I asked to kick. He said no,” O’Neill said. “We had faith in our line.”
“Somebody said it was this far,” DiNardo said, stretching his hands a foot apart. “That has always been our philosophy, that if we can’t get a foot, then shame on us.”
Reeder is headed to Penn State to play linebacker. Everybody in the stadium thought he would get the final carry. Instead, he threw one of the final blocks.
“I honestly thought they were going to go to Troy,” Gregory said. “But they lined up opposite of Troy, so Troy said, ‘Follow me.’ I just got the ball and kind of dove in.”
Gregory got the final foot, but the Sals weren’t as excited as you would think. They were too tired for that. Players from both teams were cramping up after every play in the final minutes, because no amount of preseason training can prepare you for this.
“That was the greatest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Reeder said. “It says a lot for our team.
“When you need to count on somebody, and you look to the left and right, and you know that those guys really have your back, that’s what makes a team special.”
It was a special game, filled with spectacular plays. Caesar Rodney threw deep more than the 1978 Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Alex Kemp completed seven passes for 271 yards. The shortest strike went for 23.
The Sals’ ground game rumbled like the trains that passed the stadium twice during the game. Gregory had 104 yards, and Reeder added 77. But both were behind CR’s Naquan Watkins, who darted in and out for 120 yards on the ground.
But even with all of that offense (the teams combined for 19 plays of 15 yards or more), there was plenty of defense. Sallies made eight tackles for a loss, and CR made six.
It was two great teams going toe to toe, and it’s only the first week of the season. CR came into the game ranked second in Division I, with Salesianum third. Both teams play top-ranked Middletown – the Riders and Cavaliers meet Friday at CR – and Mark DelPercio’s crew better be ready.
“Both teams wanted to win very badly, and unfortunately for us, we came up short,” said CR coach Mike Schonewolf, who was just as drained as everybody else. “We did some good things, they did some good things, and it’s the first game of the year. We’ll try to get better from here.”
It’s hard to imagine a better game. DiNardo wrapped it up when he said, “I wouldn’t want to go again.”