Balanced attack keeps Smyrna RB Knight fresh for state final

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Smyrna star running back Will Knight has 201 carries in 12 games this season. He’s averaging 163.3 yards per game and 9.8 a carry with 1960 total yards. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

SMYRNA — Will Knight has rushed for more than 200 yards more than a few times in his young career at Smyrna High.

But he never saw the volume of carries that he did on Saturday.

Knight, a sophomore running back, carried the ball 32 times in Smyrna’s 30-13 semifinal victory over William Penn after junior quarterback Nolan Henderson left with an injury. If Henderson can’t play again in Saturday’s Division I state championship against Salesianum (1 p.m. at Delaware Stadium), then Knight could be in for another busy day.

Smyrna coach Mike Judy said Knight was able to handle the heavy workload against William Penn because he’s been kept fresh this season, thanks to the Eagles’ balanced attack in their spread offense. The fact that Knight was pulled in either the second or third quarter of several Smyrna blowout victories has also helped.

“We could hand it to him 30 times and win games, but that’s not what we want in the long run for the program,” Judy said. “If we were a 30-carry a game team, Will would be beat up. He’s not beat up at all and we have enough skills offensively to spread the ball around and make people run sideline to sideline.”

Knight has 201 carries in 12 games this season. He’s averaging 163.3 yards per game and 9.8 a carry with 1960 total yards.

With Henderson averaging 258.2 passing yards a game, Knight’s season has flown a little under the radar. But the way opposing defenses play against the Eagles, it’s apparent opposing coaches know all about how dangerous Knight can be.

“The coaches that play us know they have to stop him,” Judy said. “Coach (Marvin) Dooley (of William Penn) said it best — if teams want to beat us, they have to stop the run.”

Similar semifinals

Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo was in the stands Saturday when Smyrna defeated William Penn.

And he was able to relate how the Eagles responded when Henderson left the game with an injury.

Just a night before, Salesianum lost its starting quarterback, Garrett Cannon, to a fractured ankle on a two-point conversion attempt.

“Our kids were very emotional with the loss of their captain, their quarterback,” DiNardo said. “The emotion wasn’t that of anger, but of determination. They really rallied in the second half around the fact that Garrett was out. It was very similar to how the kids from Smyrna really rallied against William Penn and played a fantastic game after their quarterback was hurt.”

Like Henderson, Cannon had words of encouragement for his coach and a few of his teammates before he was stretchered off.

“He grabbed me twice and he said, ‘Tell them to win,’” DiNardo said. “Both guys didn’t want to leave their teammates. If they had a choice, they would have wanted to be there.”

Cannon is definitely out of Saturday’s title game, while Henderson’s status is still up in the air.

Judy said he feels bad for Cannon, who is a senior this year.

“I’m sad Garrett Cannon can’t play in this game,” Judy said. “I really feel for him.”

Experience elsewhere

Though none of the Smyrna players had any football playoff experience before this year, a number of them had played in tournaments in other sports.

Linebackers Eli Hutchinson, Josh Hutchinson and Larsen Wilson, along with offensive linemen Terren Carter and Jerren Carter, are part of Smyrna’s starting lineup for its defending state championship wrestling team.

Wide receivers Charlie Taylor and Donte Ritchie are starters for the boys’ basketball team that made the state quarterfinals a year ago. Henderson and wide receiver Jared Gillis have been starters since their freshmen years on the baseball team, which made the quarterfinals two years ago and reached the state tournament again last season.

Judy said that experience helps in pressure situations.

“You can feel that they don’t get rattled,” Judy said. “They’re always ready. I think it’s a testament to the way they were raised as young men, and the background and success in other sports obviously helps with the crossover effect. There’s not a single leader on this team. It’s a large group that just takes everyone under their wing.”

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