The football teams from Caravel and Hodgson finished last season by meeting in the DIAA Division II state championship game, with the Buccaneers taking the title 39-29.
The outcome gave both teams incentive to press through an offseason of running, lifting and sweating. And the Buccaneers and Silver Eagles gained more motivation when they found out who their first opponent would be this year.
Hodgson coach Frank Moffett and Caravel coach John Reed decided to schedule a rematch.
“We ended the season playing against them, and Coach Reed and I talked about getting this game together,” Moffett said. “We both agreed it was a good thing, kind of a crosstown rivalry. A lot of our kids have that taste of defeat from last year, and they’ve been working hard for this year.”
Caravel will take a three-mile bus ride to Hodgson to open the season at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the highlight of what is sure to be an exciting opening weekend of high school football in Delaware.
And that’s far from the only big game on the Buccaneers’ schedule. With no conference affiliation, Caravel often has had to resort to filling its schedule with out-of-state teams. But the Bucs have six Delaware opponents this year, including fellow Division II title contenders Archmere on Oct. 4 and St. Georges on Nov. 2. Caravel also hosts Division I Glasgow on Oct. 18.
“It’s nice to be five minutes from these schools and still be able to play them with us not being in a conference,” Reed said. “We’re excited about that. We’ve got Glasgow, Hodgson and St. Georges. To me, it’s a big win to have these schools on our schedule.”
Caravel also faces road games at Episcopal Academy (Pa.), which went 10-0 last year, and Archbishop Curley (Md.), which is coming off an 8-3 season.
“I think Caravel has the hardest schedule of anybody in our division,” Archmere coach Jerry Ambrogi said. “A lot of times, that comes with success. A lot of teams don’t want to play you anymore.”
Hodgson can challenge Caravel for strength of schedule in Division II. In addition to the big opener, the Silver Eagles will play at perennial Division I title contender Caesar Rodney on Sept. 20, then meet fellow Blue Hen Flight B heavyweights St. Georges and Howard the following two weeks.
Hodgson had faced Caesar Rodney in preseason scrimmages for the past 10 years. This year, the teams meet for real.
“CR is kind of a special place for me. That’s where I graduated,” Moffett said. “It’s kind of like a homecoming for me. I talked to Coach [Mike] Schonewolf and we both had an open date, so we said, ‘Let’s just play the game.’ I know they’ve got a great team coming back, and it’s going to be a big task for us.”
Caesar Rodney returns most of a team that went 8-4 and lost to Middletown in the Division I state semifinals last year. The Riders will need that experience, because no other team in Delaware starts the season with a more difficult four-game stretch.
Caesar Rodney will meet Salesianum, last year’s Division I runner-up, at Baynard Stadium in the opening weekend’s other marquee game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Then the Riders will host a rematch with Middletown on Sept. 13, host Hodgson the following week and travel to Henlopen North contender Cape Henlopen on Sept. 27.
The opener against Caesar Rodney is just part of an always-tough schedule for Salesianum. The Sals also face a three-week stretch against out-of-state opponents – at home against Glen Mills (Pa.), then at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a 335-mile trip to Steubenville, Ohio.
“I would like to play all in-state teams,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said. “I would much rather play the teams in our own backyard, but that’s not my choice. … There are teams that do not want to play us in-state, so we have to go out of state.”
Steubenville is in eastern Ohio, about 45 minutes west of Pittsburgh. The Big Red have won nine state championships since 1925 and have rolled through 19 undefeated seasons, most recently in 2011.
“They are a very formidable team, but our kids wanted the challenge,” DiNardo said. “We’re going to embrace the trip and embrace the competition.”
The Sals face a much shorter trip to another unforgiving place on Oct. 18, as the annual Sallies-St. Mark’s game will be played at St. Mark’s on-campus stadium for the first time.
“It will be great to have those guys come here and play at a place they’re not familiar with,” Spartans coach John Wilson said. “But I’m not sure how we’re going to get all of the fans in and out of here. I would come early if you want to park anywhere close.”
The annual Middletown-Salesianum showdown has been moved to the final week of the regular season, at Baynard Stadium on Nov. 8. Last year’s meeting turned out to be a preview of the Division I championship game, and history could repeat itself.
Other notable games on this year’s Delaware high school football schedule:
* The season begins Thursday, with Woodbridge traveling to Appoquinimink and Laurel hosting St. Georges in the annual DFRC Kickoff Classic games.
* The Yom Kippur holiday has prompted three games to be moved to Thursday on the second week of the season. On Sept. 12, Archmere will play at Brandywine, Wilmington Friends will travel to Seaford and Tatnall will host Academy of New Church (Pa.).
* Eight teams will get a taste of the big time on Sept. 14, as Delaware Stadium hosts four games: Howard-McKean at 10:30 a.m., Milford-Delaware Military Academy at 1 p.m., Conrad-Dickinson at 3:30 p.m. and A.I. du Pont-Delcastle at 6 p.m.
* Expect to see plenty of Halloween costumes at Baynard Stadium as Howard hosts Brandywine in a Thursday night game on Oct. 31.