The Middletown-Salesianum football rivalry started in 1966 as a tiny farm town taking on the Catholic school giants.
Fifty years later, the Middletown players who had a hand in that 14-13 victory will be honored on the field at Cavaliers Stadium before Friday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Then they will watch the continuation of an annual game that has changed dramatically, but still burns just as hot.
“It goes back three generations,” said Bill DiNardo, who has seen both sides as former coach at Middletown and current coach at Salesianum. “I don’t know if there’s a fiercer rivalry in the state of Delaware.”
Middletown has mushroomed into a city, with enrollments at both Middletown and crosstown rival Appoquinimink among the top dozen high schools in Delaware. So now this rivalry is just two consistently good football teams, producing some of the state’s best games year after year.
“Things have gone back and forth. You have your ups and downs with it,” Cavaliers coach Mark DelPercio said. “We’ve played some great games. They’ve had some runs, we’ve had some runs. It’s been a great battle, not just recently, but over the years.”
Salesianum has had the upper hand lately, winning the last five meetings. That includes 20-6 during the regular season and 27-21 on a last-second, goal-line stand in the semifinals of the DIAA Division I playoffs last year.
But Middletown (4-0), ranked second statewide in Division I, may have the upper hand this time. The Cavaliers have allowed just six points all season, an inconsequential touchdown late in a 43-6 win over Delcastle last week.
“They’re going to come at you from every which way,” DiNardo said of the Cavaliers’ defense. “They’re going to come at you with the intention of disrupting and destroying. They’re really good.”
Middletown’s offense is really good, too. Sophomore Drew Fry has already thrown 17 touchdown passes in his first season as a starter.
“They throw the ball very well. They spread you out, and they are very good offensively,” DiNardo said. “The kid, Fry, he doesn’t act like a sophomore. He acts like his dad was an All-State quarterback and a college quarterback. He’s a very polished kid.”
DiNardo should know. Drew’s father, Dale Fry, was a senior quarterback at Middletown in 1988 — DiNardo’s first year there — and went on to play at the University of Delaware.
The fourth-ranked Sals (3-1) struggled against the pass in a 60-26 loss at top-ranked Smyrna two weeks ago, and the Cavaliers hope to test them with a similar approach.
“Obviously, throwing the football has been one of our strengths this season,” DelPercio said.
But the Salesianum offense has something that concerns DelPercio, and it’s a big something. With guards Zeb Wright (6-foot-2, 305 pounds) and Josh Williams (5-10, 255), tackles Randy Sinnott (6-5, 290) and Dom Marra (6-6, 275) and center Sean Keating (6-2, 265) across the front, the Sals’ offensive line looks like it could be playing at the next level.
“They look like a college offensive line,” DelPercio said. “Not just big, but tall. They’re not fat. They’re 6-foot-4, 280- or 290-pound guys.”
And last week, the Sals added to the battering power by moving Josh Patrick (6-2, 225) from tight end to running back. He responded with eight carries for 105 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-12 victory over Caravel.
“We just felt that he would give us a little extra push,” DiNardo said. “We felt that with an offense that had been inconsistent, he would give us a big body. He’s the fastest kid on the team; he’s the strongest kid on our team.”
DiNardo said the move also kept fellow running backs Nick Merlino and Carson Salvo fresher. And the Sals also have an effective passing game, with junior Zach Gwynn often targeting receiver Michael Drake.
“Their quarterback throws the ball well,” DelPercio said. “He’s got a good arm, he’s got good size. You can’t take their passing game for granted.”
You can’t take anything for granted in a Middletown-Sallies game. The schools have combined for 14 state football championships (seven each), and from 2005-13 they took seven of the nine Division I titles (four for the Sals, three for the Cavaliers).
“This is a big test for us to see where we are, to see how we match up, to see how we respond against a great football team,” DiNardo said. “And I know it’s a great test for them. They haven’t seen anything like us to this point.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.