MIDDLETOWN – St. Georges football players refer to their particular playing style as “death march,” and it kept the Hawks alive Saturday in the DIAA Division II State Football Tournament semifinals.
Down by seven at halftime, St. Georges ran the football on every offensive play in the second half and it led to four touchdowns and a 33-14 win over visiting Woodbridge.
St. Georges, in the tournament for the fifth time in six years, seeks its first state football title next Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Delaware Stadium against Blue Hen Conference Flight B and New Castle County Vo-Tech District rival Howard.
Junior Gary Brightwell dashed and darted 79 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first play. But the Hawks needed their second-half resurgence after Woodbridge, boosted by two big pass plays, went into halftime up 14-7.
Brightwell finished with 203 yards on 16 carries with four touchdowns, but he had plenty of company. Logan Gilbert pounded his way to 102 yards on 21 carries and Angelo Ortiz supplied another 66 yards on 13 runs. Ortiz scored the final touchdown on a 12-yard gallop with :59 left after his interception thwarted any hope of a Woodbridge comeback.
“When they gave us a fight, we had to buckle down, go death march on them,” said offensive tackle Stefon Woodruff. “Four yards a pop. That’s all we needed.’’
St. Georges actually averaged better than seven yards per carry in the second half running behind Woodruff and offensive front mates Brian Rush at tackle, Daniel Brooks at center, guards Shaquan Brittingham and Charles Lamborn and tight ends Austyen Warren and Doug Phillips.
“We just came out in a more aggressive tone in the second half,” said Brightwell, who scored on 2-, 17- and 35-yard second-half runs, before mentioning the death march himself. “The guys up front do an awesome job.”
Brightwell’s 17-yard TD with 6:23 left in the third quarter gave St. Georges a 21-14 lead. The Hawks had taken over at the Woodbridge 47 after foiling a fake punt. Turned out the Blue Raiders didn’t want to fake the punt on fourth-and-6 from the Hawks’ 49. A fan happened to innocently yell from the stands an encouraging comment that turned out to be the signal for the fake.
St. Georges finished with a 369-131 advantage in total yards, as junior Daivyne Bailey sparked the Hawks’ defense with some timely sacks.
“Woodbridge played well and they were stopping our inside run,” St. Georges coach J.D. Maull said of the first half. “Our kids, some of them put their head down a little bit. But that’s teenagers. They got their head back up and kept playing and we got things going.”
In its lone previous state final appearance in 2013, St. Georges was humbled 38-0 by Hodgson. Top-seeded St. Georges (11-1) has won 11 straight since a season-opening loss to defending Division I state champ William Penn.
“We’ve done everything,” Woodruff said, “lost in the first round , second round  and the championship . This is our year to win the ‘ship.”
Howard (9-3) rallied to beat Friends 20-15 in Friday’s other Division II semifinal at Tower Hill. St. Georges handled Howard 35-14 on Sept. 18 at Baynard Stadium.
No. 7-seeded Woodbridge (8-4) had upset Delaware Military Academy in the first round last week and arrived with a six-game win streak.
The Blue Raiders responded quickly to St. Georges’ initial touchdown. Jaylyn Magee’s interception on a regretful third-and-30 pass gave Woodbridge possession at the Hawks’ 16. After a third-down sack, Woodbridge needed freshman quarterback Troy Haynes’ 22-yard touchdown pass to Bragg Davis on fourth-and-16 as the game was tied up 7-7.
Woodbridge’s defense then forced punts on three straight St. Georges’ series. In between, Kirby Williams scored on a 7-yard touchdown for Woodbridge after a 35-yard Haynes-to-Davis hookup on third-and-17 from the Hawks 42 as the Blue Raiders went ahead 14-7.
Losing defensive end Leah Styles to a concussion just before halftime hurt Woodbridge’s chances.
“He’s just a force. He’s dominant,” coach Ed Manlove said. “ . . . We tried. We put up a fight.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.