The Caesar Rodney football team had been working for this moment all season.
The fifth-ranked Riders had played the state’s toughest schedule, suffering three frustrating losses. But Caesar Rodney unleashed everything it had in the regular-season finale Friday night, dominating No. 3 Dover 42-18 to win the Henlopen North championship and clinch a spot in the DIAA Division I playoffs.
“We’ve been through a lot this season,” CR quarterback Alex Kemp said. “We had a couple of tough games, but we never got down on ourselves. We always told ourselves to keep getting better, and if we won the conference we’ve got a shot to go all the way.”
Caesar Rodney (7-3, 6-0) had lost to No. 1 Middletown, No. 2 Salesianum in overtime and No. 4 St. Mark’s on a last-minute field goal. The Riders took out all of that frustration on the archrival Senators (8-2, 5-1).
“That tough schedule in the beginning of the year, that was the key,” said fullback-linebacker Dean Johnson, who scored three touchdowns. “That’s what helped us at the end. We were ready for everything.”
The Riders took the opening kickoff and moved to the Senators 12 before Dover’s Omar Price recovered a fumble. The Senators returned the favor three plays later, as CR’s Rasheed Teasley pounced on a Dover fumble at the 21. Dominique Dorsey bulled in from the 6 three plays later to give the Riders a 7-0 lead.
CR struck again on its next possession, keyed by Kemp’s 42-yard bomb to tight end Seth Brosius. Johnson went untouched up the middle for a 7-yard score two plays later to push the Riders ahead 13-0 with 4:21 left in the opening quarter.
The Senators answered with a 10-play, 72-yard drive, with Marcellus Pack sprinting around left end for a 9-yard TD to pull Dover within 13-6 with 14.7 seconds left in the first quarter.
It stayed that way until the second play of the second half, when Tavarus Sample turned Nick Spadafino’s screen pass into a 57-yard touchdown. But CR blocked the Senators’ PAT attempt for the second time to keep a 13-12 lead.
Then the Riders unloaded. A roughing-the-passer penalty turned a fourth down into a first down as part of a 67-yard drive, and Johnson scored from the 3. Then Kendall Wicks intercepted a Dover pass and returned it 24 yards to the Senators 25. Five plays later, Naquan Watkins broke three tackles on the way to an 11-yard touchdown run and a 28-12 lead with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
Arthur Miles recovered a Dover fumble, and Kemp threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Johnson on fourth-and-9 to stretch CR’s margin to 35-12 with 9:31 to play.
Dover answered with Spadafino’s 30-yard scoring pass to Sample, but Dorsey capped the Riders’ win with a 30-yard touchdown burst on fourth-and-2 with 2:39 remaining.
Dorsey rushed 10 times for 82 yards, Watkins carried 17 times for 81 yards and Johnson ran 13 times for 68 yards for Caesar Rodney.
“Both sides of the ball, we were firing off, getting up in their face and getting in the backfield,” Johnson said.
Raekwon Bouges rushed 17 times for 102 yards for Dover, and Spadafino completed 7 of 17 passes for 118 yards. But after a long, difficult season, it was the Riders’ night.
“It means a lot to us,” Johnson said. “It’s such a humbling feeling to have the win, have the championship, and it also be our senior night. It’s a beautiful moment for the team.”