SMYRNA – William Penn knocked Nolan Henderson out of the game last year.
The senior quarterback went the distance this time, and he inflicted plenty of pain on the Colonials.
Henderson completed 8 of 15 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns as second-seeded Smyrna blasted third-seeded William Penn 48-0 on Saturday night in the semifinals of the DIAA Division I football playoffs.
A standing-room-only crowd of 3,495 – including Philadelphia Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood – packed into Charles V. Williams Stadium expecting a classic confrontation. It quickly turned into a romp, which was fine with the Smyrna fans.
“We had fun tonight,” Henderson said. “Everything was clicking. We made little mistakes, but everybody was doing their job and it allowed us to have some fun and open up the playbook a little bit.”
The Eagles (11-0) won their 21st straight game and advanced to their second consecutive state championship game, against top-seeded Middletown (11-0) at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Delaware Stadium.
“I’m just real proud of our kids,” Eagles coach Mike Judy said. “We were able to execute offensively. The only time we were really stopped was when we stopped ourselves.”
That didn’t happen often. Henderson left last year’s semifinal game at William Penn with a concussion late in the second quarter. The Eagles were trailing 13-0 at the time, but scored the last 30 points without their quarterback to win in dramatic fashion. Henderson returned the following week as Smyrna defeated Salesianum in overtime in the championship game, but he had some unfinished business against the Colonials.
“If there’s one kid in our program that wanted to win this game more than anybody, it was Nolan,” Judy said. “He’s not the type of kid that would ever say that, but having to get out of there before the end of the second quarter last year, I’m sure it burned him inside.”
Henderson burned the defense for the first time with a 30-yard pass to Emon Roberts, who made a tremendous leaping catch on fourth-and-13. Leddie Brown scored on a 1-yard run three plays later, and Will Knight ran in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 Smyrna lead just 2:03 into the game.
Then Henderson found Roberts for 12 yards, and Brown burst up the middle for a 46-yard score to make it 16-0 with 4:20 left in the opening quarter.
The Colonials (10-2) tried to get back in it, as Jahsan Gildersleeve fired a 44-yard pass to Terin Cochran to set up first-and-goal at the 6. But on fourth-and-goal, Smyrna defensive back Jacob Soroko knifed in to cut down Isaiah Gaynor’s jet sweep 1 yard short of the goal line.
“I was just covering my guy, and then I came off and saw the run coming to my side,” Soroko said. “I had to make a big play for my team on fourth down.”
Three plays later, Henderson hit Knight on a seam route. The junior running back outran the Colonials the rest of the way for a 89-yard score that it 24-0.
“It was definitely a lot better than last year,” Henderson said. “We knew coming in that they were a good team, and we had to be perfect. I think we played pretty perfect tonight.”
The big plays kept coming on the Eagles’ next possession, as Henderson found Stephen Whaley for a 27-yard score. It was 32-0 with 7:37 still remaining in the second quarter.
“He was really good,” Judy said of Henderson. “What a way to end your career here on this field, your last home game with an almost perfect game. He was outstanding. He extended the plays under pressure.”
The Eagles kept humming in the second half, as Knight scored on a 20-yard run and Brown plunged in from the 1.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ