ST. GEORGES – The last two years, the Wilmington Friends football team knocked on the door.
On Saturday, the Quakers knocked it down and saw what was on the other side.
A trip to Delaware Stadium awaits, after Friends downed St. Georges 20-6 in the semifinals of the DIAA Division II football playoffs. The fifth-seeded Quakers (11-1) will meet top-seeded Woodbridge for the championship at 5:30 p.m. next Saturday.
It will be a rematch of a Sept. 23 game, won by Woodbridge 35-7. But the Quakers have won nine straight since then, earning a chance to play for their first Division II title since 1984.
“This is good,” said 49th-year coach Bob Tattersall, who pushed his state-leading win total to 303. “[Woodbridge coach] Ed Manlove said, ‘We’ll see you. We’ll see you in the playoffs.’ I knew he was going to be there. I wasn’t sure we were going to be there. But here we are.”
Friends did it by holding the always potent ground game of third-seeded St. Georges (9-3) to just 75 yards on 26 carries. Quakers defensive lineman Daniel Adebi was unstoppable, as he sacked Hawks quarterback Robert Shorts twice, batted down a pass and caused a fumble.
“Our defense enables us to hunt and probe and find a way to score on offense,” Tattersall said.
Friends found a way with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that took 5:38 off the second-quarter clock. Andrew Jaworski highlighted it with a 41-yard burst up the middle, and Henry Gise scored on a 6-yard run. St. Georges’ Jason Stewart blocked the PAT, leaving the Quakers with a 6-0 lead.
But Friends was forced to punt into a stiff wind late in the first half. The boot gained only 15 yards, setting up the Hawks at the Quakers 31 with 41.7 seconds to go. Shorts completed passes of 12 yards to Doug Phillips and 14 yards to Damani Wells, then scored on a 5-yard scramble. Friends’ Joshua Payne blocked the PAT, so it was tied at halftime.
“After that touchdown at the end of the half, earlier in the season I could see us giving up. I could see our heads down in the locker room,” Gise said. “But not this time. That actually pumped us up.”
The Quakers took full advantage of the wind at their backs in the third quarter. Jaworski blocked a punt to set them up at the Hawks 35, and Gise ran it in from the 8 three plays later for a 12-6 lead.
“Henry, I just can’t say enough about him,” Tattersall said of Gise, who rushed 10 times for 39 yards despite wearing a brace to protect a swollen knee. “… He played a lot more than we were planning. We practiced all week without him, and I was preparing for him not to play. But he’s remarkable.”
A 44-yard pass play on St. Georges’ next possession was negated by two penalties. The Hawks had to punt, and the Quakers pressed for another score while they had the wind. On first-and-15 from the Hawks 34, Justin Beneck slipped a screen pass to Jaworski on the final play of the quarter.
“I just saw green, and I went after it,” Jaworski said. “I knew that they were coming around the corner hard. We knew we could throw the screen pass.”
The bruising fullback went the distance virtually untouched, and Beneck threw a two-point pass to Gise for a 20-6 lead.
The Hawks could get no closer than their own 37 in the final quarter. Friends’ Jeffrey McAbee intercepted a pass, and Adebi caused a fumble that Dalton Ramsey recovered to put the lid on it with 2:45 left. The Quakers were on their way to the championship game.
“We’ve always been that close. All three years, it’s been tough,” said Jaworski, who rushed for 105 yards on 20 carries. “But we knew that we had it this year, and this year was something special.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ