It’s a cold week of football practice at Woodbridge High School.
But the Blue Raiders have longed for this. Only 14 of Delaware’s 43 football teams are still practicing, and Woodbridge is one of them.
“I think we’re making good strides,” Blue Raiders coach Ed Manlove said. “I hoped we could be a playoff team. I was just trying to get over the hump and at least have a winning season. We took it a little bit further than we had planned, but it’s a good thing. It’s a great thing.”
Woodbridge went 7-3 to earn the No. 6 seed in the DIAA Division II Football Tournament. The Blue Raiders will travel to third-seeded Tower Hill (10-0) for a 7:30 kickoff Friday night.
Woodbridge, which annually has one of the state’s smallest enrollments among football-playing schools, has only qualified for the playoffs twice – in 1999 and 2000. Both times, the Blue Raiders lost their opening game.
“That’s our goal, to make some more history on Friday,” Manlove said.
The matchup against Tower Hill appears to offer a reasonable chance. The Hillers are the only undefeated team in the state, but faced only one team with a winning record. Tower Hill’s opponents went a combined 30-63, but the Hillers did outscore them 348-53 and win every game by at least 14 points.
“I’ve heard we got the best draw, but they’re still 10-0,” Manlove said. “They’ve had four shutouts, and I don’t think they’ve given up more than 12 points in a game. That’s tough, no matter who you’re playing.”
All of the Blue Raiders’ losses have been close, to Polytech (26-17) and fellow Division II playoff qualifiers Indian River (17-7) and Delmar (33-28). Woodbridge owns wins over Division I opponents Appoquinimink (21-13) and Sussex Tech (32-28).
“The three games that we did lose, we were in every single one,” Manlove said. “We should’ve, could’ve won them. We could easily be 10-0.”
Manlove is in his fifth year as coach of the Blue Raiders. Woodbridge only has 33 players, with 28 scheduled to suit up Friday. The junior varsity team went 7-1 this season, despite using only 13 or 14 players in most games.
“We’re physically stronger. That made a huge difference,” Manlove said. “The kids got in the weight room. We kept a small team, but we kept the kids that want to work hard. All the kids that just wanted to be on the team and didn’t want to put the actual work in, we kind of let them weed themselves out.”
Junior quarterback Logan Wescott has passed for 1,392 yards and 12 touchdowns, leads the team in rushing with 623 yards and seven scores and ranks third on the defense with 73 tackles.
“Our quarterback has done a fantastic job,” Manlove said. “He can do it all. He can run and he can throw, and that makes it hard on a defense. Plus, on the defensive side he has been an absolute animal this year. He gets after it on both sides, and we just kind of feed off of him.”
Seniors Dajon Emory and Ricky Rayford (both 6-foot-2, 225 pounds) give Woodbridge size on the ends on offense and defense. Rayford also moves to tailback and has rushed for 472 yards and four scores, in addition to 29 catches for 380 yards and two TDs. Speedy senior Anthony Jefferson has 27 receptions for 531 yards and six TDs.
Senior kicker Brent Adams is another weapon with three field goals, 19 touchbacks on kickoffs and 12 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Giving the Tower Hill offense a long way to go will be important.
“They’re in that single wing, and you don’t know who’s getting it,” Manlove said. “The line, they just plow straight ahead.
“They’re not looking to get 35 yards a play; they’re looking to get 4. If they can get 4 yards every play, they’re just moving the chains. We have an explosive offense, but if we’re not on the field it’s not going to matter.”