The wish of most Delaware high school football fans will come true at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Delaware Stadium will be the site of one of the most eagerly-anticipated games in the state’s history, as top-seeded Salesianum (10-1) meets third-seeded Smyrna (11-1) in the DIAA Division I championship game.
The anticipation was built by the first meeting between these teams. Everyone at Baynard Stadium on Sept. 25 witnessed one of the most exciting, unusual games ever, as Salesianum won 76-56. Both teams put up more than 700 yards of total offense, and instantly, everyone clamored for a rematch.
“Last thing we said when we left the locker room that night was, ‘If we do our job and they do theirs, we may meet again,’” Smyrna coach Mike Judy said. “It’s kind of a little bit of destiny coming to fruition. We’re going to meet them again, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
More than 5,200 tickets have already been sold, and a crowd of 10,000 or more is expected to turn out to see if the Sals and Eagles can put up as many points as last time. While both coaches know the offenses will be difficult to stop, neither think this game will be as explosive as the first.
“I have to believe it’s going to be a lot different the second time,” Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a 7-3 ballgame, but I think both teams have shown that they are much improved defensively.”
The Eagles’ defense has allowed just 13.2 points per game since that night. The Sals’ defense has held opponents to 8.4 points per game since then.
“I just can’t foresee that happening again, by either team,” Judy said. “I can’t see them giving up 56. I can’t see us giving up 76.”
Of course, neither team has faced an offense with as much firepower since that night. But while Smyrna running back Will Knight (1,960 yards, 31 touchdowns) and Salesianum running back Colby Reeder (1,916 yards, 32 TDs) will be the marquee matchup, there are other factors that could swing the rematch.
Salesianum quarterback Garrett Cannon, who completed 12 of 16 passes for 204 yards and three scores against Smyrna, fractured his ankle late in the first half of the Sals’ semifinal win over Middletown. Sophomore Zach Gwynn played the second half and will make his first career start in the championship game.
“This kid could be the next great one at Sallies,” Judy said of Gwynn. “Not enough film on him to even know what he can do, so we’re going to prepare for him just like if Cannon was healthy.”
Smyrna has its own quarterback issue, as junior Nolan Henderson took a hard hit to the head and left the field on a stretcher late in the first half of the Eagles’ semifinal win over William Penn. Henderson has practiced some this week, but his status is still uncertain.
Henderson passed for a dazzling 495 yards against Sallies in the first meeting. But Smyrna was trailing 13-0 when Henderson went out against William Penn, and the Eagles switched gears and mostly snapped the ball directly to Knight the rest of the way. He rushed for 270 yards and four touchdowns as Smyrna rallied for a 30-13 victory, so the Eagles proved they are pretty potent either way.
“They’re very capable of playing any game they want to play offensively,” DiNardo said. “They can spread you out and make big plays there. Or they can go two tight ends and just smashmouth you, and [Knight] can make plays.”
With Cannon out, Judy wouldn’t be surprised to see Sallies borrow a page from his playbook. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Reeder rushed for 408 yards and seven touchdowns in the first meeting, so Smyrna knows what the Sals will try first.
“I think it will be a different look. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a little bit of wildcat, direct snapping to Colby Reeder, to be honest,” Judy said. “Anything to get the job done. This is the last game of the season, win or lose. So I would expect nothing else but them pulling out every trick they know.”
The Eagles like to make opponents uncomfortable by going for two after every touchdown (Knight has scored 50 2-pointers this season), employing onside kicks frequently and blitzing heavily on defense.
“We want chaos,” Judy said. “We want those 15- and 16-year-olds having to think and be scared. That’s what we want, and it has worked for us so far.”
So expect chaos. And expect Salesianum to do what it does best – send its massive offensive line straight ahead and hand it or pitch it to Reeder 30 times or more.
How many points will it take it win? 56? 76? When asked, the Smyrna coach had the perfect answer.
“One more than they score,” Judy said.
It’s time to find out how many that will be.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ