Middletown-Smyrna football brings old and new together

Middletown-Smyrna football brings old and new together

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Middletown-Smyrna football brings old and new together

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The Harvest Bowl is back.

After a four-year hiatus, the annual nonconference football game between Middletown and Smyrna will resume on Sept. 8, 2017, at Cavaliers Stadium.

But if you don’t want to wait that long, there’s a more immediate option. Top-seeded Middletown (11-0) and second-seeded Smyrna (11-0) will clash in this year’s DIAA Division I championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Delaware Stadium.

Smyrna’s 32-26, overtime victory over Salesianum in last year’s D-I final drew more than 10,000 fans to the University of Delaware. With a forecast of sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50s, this game could match or even top that crowd.

“There’s no doubt that this is the game everybody wants,” Middletown coach Mark DelPercio said. “This is the game everybody has been waiting for all season. Delaware Stadium is going to be the place to be.”

The two high schools are just 13 miles apart, but they compete in different conferences. They started an annual rivalry back in the 1960s, usually in the first week or two of the season. After a lapse, the series returned from 2009-12, with Smyrna coming no closer than 17 points in any of the four games.

But the Eagles are different now. After years of struggle in the Henlopen Conference, Mike Judy took over as Smyrna’s head coach in 2014. The Eagles improved from 2-8 to 5-5 that year, then jumped all the way to 12-1 and their first state football championship last season.

Smyrna will take a 21-game winning streak into Saturday’s game. Middletown has won 11 in a row. Both have done it with the same approach.

“I know that Mark and the Middletown Cavaliers were focused on one thing, and that’s going game-to-game and trying to be undefeated and be perfect this season,” Judy said. “I know that, because that’s exactly the same thing we tried to do.

“We weren’t thinking about this moment. We didn’t know who it was going to be against. But you knew if you do your job and they do their job, we’re likely going to meet up.”

Both teams have won with overwhelming offenses. Start with Smyrna, which is averaging 54.2 points per game. Quarterback Nolan Henderson has thrown for 2,313 yards and 32 touchdowns. Running back Will Knight, last year’s Delaware Offensive Player of the Year, has rushed for 1,113 yards and 20 scores, and caught 29 passes for 737 yards and nine more TDs. New running back Leddie Brown has racked up 20 additional touchdowns.

“They’re a juggernaut on offense,” DelPercio said. “I think they’ve got four or five [NCAA] Division I football players, which might be as much as the rest of the state combined. They’ve got speed, they’ve got size.

“You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be in the right position. Because if not, they’ll take advantage of that. It’s going to be a quick six [points] if you’re out of position. And you’ve got to tackle.”

The Cavaliers can tackle. They have held opponents to 7.8 points per game, less than half of the 16.2 points yielded by the Smyrna defense. But Middletown has plenty of offense, too, putting up 42.4 points per game.

Sophomore quarterback Drew Fry has been spectacular in his first year as a starter, passing for 2,542 yards and 35 touchdowns. Kedrick Whitehead has blossomed into a serious rushing threat with 1,263 yards and 15 TDs.

“They’re the best offensive team we will face, undoubtedly,” Judy said. “I also think they’re one of the best defenses in Division I, and nobody talks about their special teams, which are solid, too. It’s going to take everything we have to beat them.”

The teams went at it in a preseason scrimmage Sept. 1 at Cavaliers Stadium, with both coaches showcasing their first teams for the first three quarters. But neither coach is reading too much into what happened in a scrimmage three months ago.

“I know that wasn’t all they had, and we didn’t give them all that we had, either,” Judy said. “Mark and his staff, they’re wily old vets. They know what to do. They’re going to hold some stuff back that we need to be prepared for. And you best believe we did that as well.”

DelPercio was happy to schedule that scrimmage, and he’s even happier to see the Harvest Bowl resume next year. And now, one of these teams will go into that game as the defending Division I champion.

“This is neat,” DelPercio said. “Many people overlook the tradition and the rivalry of Middletown-Smyrna that goes back to the ’60s. Middletown-Sallies is obviously a huge rivalry today, but Middletown-Smyrna was quite the rivalry back then. I’m not surprised that both teams are where we are today.”

It’s a throwback and a modern classic, all wrapped into one package fans can see for $8 at the state’s largest, most prestigious football venue.

“This is what all of the old timers that started that Harvest Bowl would want,” Judy said. “I hope they’re still around to see it.”

Rest assured, they will be there.

Contact Brad Myers at bmyers@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ

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DIAA Football Championships

Saturday, Delaware Stadium

Division I:

 No. 1 Middletown vs. No. 2 Smyrna, 1

Unified flag football:

 No. 4 Newark Charter vs. No. 2 McKean, 4

Division II:

No. 1 Woodbridge vs. No. 5 Wilmington Friends, 5:30

Sophomore Drew Fry has thrown for 2,542 yards and 35 touchdowns in his first year as Middletown's starter.

Sophomore Drew Fry has thrown for 2,542 yards and 35 touchdowns in his first year as Middletown’s starter.

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