NEWARK – Delaware’s only true inner-city high school often practices football on a field that covers an area 48 yards by 43 yards and has little grass sprouting from it after cleated feet arrive in August.
On Saturday night, Howard High stepped into the swank confines of Delaware Stadium and showed what it’s truly made of.
And the Wildcats weren’t going to let little matters like a miniature practice field or a previous one-sided loss to St. Georges undermine them in their quest to make history in the DIAA Division II state title game.
Overcoming obstacles is what moves and motivates the Wildcats, who stunned top-seeded St. Georges 28-13. It was the 42nd state championship in the history of the high school, located on East 12th Street in Wilmington, but the first in football.
They forced four first-half St. Georges fumbles, recovering three, en route to a 22-7 halftime lead. They sustained their superiority in the second half by continuing to limit the Hawks’ vaunted run game while exhibiting their own offensive firepower.
Finally, an interception by Trevon Bordrick with 5:10 left thwarted St. Georges’ final threat, and allowed the Howard offense to put the finishing touches on a win that few, besides the Wildcats, saw coming.
“This means so much to Howard,” Bordrick said, “because we’re so underrated, we’re so put down . . . Today, we made it.”
Howard had lost in its lone previous state championship appearance in 2002, one year after Dan Ritter became coach.
When several Howard players were good enough athletically and academically to play in college, including Matt Carre (Penn), Darius Cubbage (Lehigh) and Courtney Ford (Eastern Michigan), Ritter knew that Howard, so long a powerhouse in basketball and track, could be a draw and a winner in football, too. Later, Devon Still, who attended Saturday’s game, would go from Howard to Penn State to the NFL.
“When you look at our kids,” Ritter said, “and a lot of our kids come from the city, to them it’s an exciting place.’’
And that small, dirt practice field in Kirkwood Park along the Brandywine River, which is inferior to what every other high school in the state has, is just part of that place. Even though they sustain more injuries there on the rutted surface than on game fields, the Wildcats are not tempted to use it as an excuse.
“We don’t,” said Ritter, who sometimes will bus his team to Eden Park on New Castle Ave. where there are lights. “We call it ‘out back’ and it is what it is. We go out back and we play ball. Our kids will say that. They’ll say ‘Where do you practice?’ and the kids will say ‘Out back, in the park.’ We go down a set of steps, across the bus lane, open the gate and we’re there. It’s our place.”
Howard had enough to worry about Saturday in St. Georges. The Hawks had blasted Howard, their New Castle County Vo-Tech district and Flight B rival, 35-14 at Baynard Stadium on Sept. 18, building a 35-0 lead early in the third quarter.
“Our key was stopping the run,” Bordrick said. “We practiced all week, defending the run on critical downs.’’
In key moments, on both offense and defense, Howard was prepared to execute and made the plays it needed.
“We lost teammates,” senior lineman Jeremiah Blunston said of injuries to Alonzo Roberts, Adrian Gyebi, and others. “We were down last week [before rallying to beat Friends in the semifinals]. We had adversity. Everybody doubted us. Nobody believed in us except the people in our locker room and we made history today.
“We think of ourselves as ‘We can beat anybody,’ and tonight we did it.’’
Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.