Newark vs. William Penn. Salesianum vs. Middletown or St. Mark’s. Caesar Rodney vs. Dover or Sussex Central.
For many seasons, one of those matchups was usually seen as the biggest game in Delaware high school football each year.
Now Salesianum vs. Smyrna is the biggest game, and everybody knows it.
The Eagles burst on the scene last year, leaping from 5-5 in 2014 to their first DIAA Division I state championship. Along the way, Smyrna lost an incredible 76-56 regular-season game to Salesianum, then rallied to nip the Sals 32-26 in overtime in a D-I title game witnessed by more than 10,000 fans at Delaware Stadium.
Both teams likely have been thinking about each other for each of the 293 days since their last meeting. They finally get a chance to tangle again at 7 p.m. Friday as Salesianum makes its first trip to Smyrna’s Charles V. Williams Stadium, where a sellout crowd will be a certainty.
“This has developed into a really big rivalry,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said. “It’s two great programs, and two contrasting styles, which brings a lot of excitement. You see two different things there.
“You see the experienced coach, you see the young coach. You see the upstate, the downstate. The Catholic, the public. There are so many intangibles in there that make this a really interesting game.”
That young coach is Mike Judy, who has the top-ranked Eagles (2-0) flying higher than ever in just his third season at the helm. He called DiNardo to schedule the Sals last year, eager to go toe-to-toe with a longtime powerhouse and see just how far Smyrna had advanced.
The answer was a long, long way.
“I’m glad that our program can be part of a game with so much excitement and hype around it, regardless of who it is,” Judy said. “It’s really cool for these kids to be part of that.”
Smyrna outscored Delcastle and Appoquinimink 120-16 in its first two games, with no one finding a way to slow down quarterback Nolan Henderson and running backs Will Knight and Leddie Brown.
“They’re certainly capable of putting lots of points on the board,” DiNardo said. “They are super talented. They come from every angle, from every part of the field, and they can do so many things well.”
The third-ranked Sals (2-0) have played it closer to the vest, relying on defense and special teams to grind past Father Judge of Philadelphia 16-13 and Caesar Rodney 24-0.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit, but it’s a thing we can fix,” DiNardo said. “Once we get a little more confident and once we do things a little more consistently, I think we’re going to be a really good offensive team.”
Friday would be a good time to fix it, because Salesianum will be hard pressed to totally ground the Eagles’ offense.
“We’re going to need more than two touchdowns,” DiNardo said. “For me to think our defense is going to throw a shutout would be very unrealistic.”
It’s also unrealistic to expect Smyrna to go straight up against Sallies’ offensive line, which features 6-foot-5, 290-pound All-State tackle Randy Sinnott and 6-6, 275-pound Dom Marra. The Eagles’ front seven will likely shift constantly to try to keep the Sals’ bruisers from one-on-one matchups.
“They look comparable to the size of Wesley College or Salisbury, playing high school football,” Judy said. “For us, there’s going to be some mismatches there. But our kids will match their effort, and our kids are probably just as strong. We may be smaller than them, but we’re very, very strong.”
The Sals also have a more varied attack than last year, when 225-pound running back Colby Reeder did the majority of the damage. With Reeder now playing at the University of Delaware, Sallies spreads the ball around with fullback Peyton Mullin or halfback Nick Merlino running, or quarterback Zach Gwynn throwing to receiver Michael Drake or tight end Josh Patrick.
“They have dangerous athletes around the field, so now I think it’s going to be even more stressful for us defensively,” Judy said. “When they need a big play, who’s going to be the guy they call on?”
After 293 days of waiting, we’re about to find out.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.