CR pulls away from Polytech to earn first victory 26-13

CAMDEN — Clearly, this was Caesar Rodney High’s best opportunity this season to get a victory.

Then again, Polytech had to like its chances on Friday night, too.

And with the Riders clinging to just a one-point lead at halftime, it was still anybody’s game.

But CR used a handful of big third-quarter plays to break the contest open and put away a 26-13 win over the Panthers to finally register its first win of the season.

With a big homecoming crowd on hand, the Riders (1-4 North, 1-8) snapped a nine-game losing streak, posting its first victory since beating Henlopen North rival Polytech (0-5, 1-8) last November.

Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery

The win came with a big sigh of relief for CR’s players.

“It feels great, like a whole lot of weight just lifted off your shoulders, getting that first win,” said senior Isaiah Washington. “Homecoming night, family and friends coming out, you’ve got to represent. It was on us.”

“It’s good that we all did it together, as a team,” said senior running back Najee Whitted. “And it was homecoming night. Everybody was out here to see it. I’m glad that I could be a part of this.”

The Riders were leading only 7-6 before quarterback Jared Wagenhoffer hit Kairi Buie on a screen pass and the senior receiver turned it into a 16-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter.

Then, after stopping Polytech on a three-and-out, senior defensive tackle Kenneth Shahan blocked the punt, giving CR the ball right back at the Panthers’ 24.

Two plays later, Wagenhoffer rolled out and found receiver Peyton Lavender along the sidelines, The junior turned and ran down the sidelines to complete a 27-yard scoring play that stretched the Riders’ advantage to 20-6.

Finally, on Polytech’s next play from scrimmage, linebacker James Holmes stepped in front of a pass in the flat and sprinted 48 yards for another TD. The defensive touchdown pushed CR’s lead to 26-6 with 4:17 remaining in the third quarter.

Riders’ coach Dan Candeloro knew that the Panthers were going to give CR everything they had.

“They came out ready to play,” said the second-year head coach. “This is a big game for them, it’s a big game for us. It’s a crosstown rivalry. … There was no quit in them. They were well-coached and ready to go.

“We haven’t played a full game. We’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot coming out after halftime. … We’ve been talking about learning how to win again. It’s been a tough year. It was good to get it but it was a tough game.”

The Riders never trailed after driving 60 yards to score on the first possession of the night. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Whitted scored on a 30-yard run, breaking a few tackles before reaching the end zone.

He finished with 84 yards on 12 carries as well as adding five receptions for 32 yards. Waggenhoffer was 15-of-23 for 160 yards.

But Polytech answered right back, marching 68 yards to score on its first possession. Quarterback Benjamin Morpus (9-for-16, 77 yards) found Stephen Baione, who made a juggling catch on the 30-yard pass after a CR defender got a hand on the ball.

The Panthers, though, decided to go for two with an interception by CR’s Kaleb Moseley stopping the play and leaving the Riders with their 7-6 advantage.

A Polytech fourth-quarter TD was set up by Hunter Poisson’s interception near the goal line and 52-yard return.

After a fourth-down facemask penalty against CR gave the Panthers one more try, Morpus found receiver Darrell DeMoe alone in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard scoring pass.

The touchdown came with 7:20 left and pulled the Panthers to within 26-13. But they didn’t get any closer.

The victory means that the Riders can go into next Friday’s rivalry game at Dover without having to worry about getting their first win.

“Dover’s not going to give it to us, either,” said Whitted.

“We’ve always got to show out against them,” said Washington.

“They’ve worked hard,” Candeloro said about his players. “We talk all the time about survival and outlasting adversity. … It’s nice to get the first one. It’s good for the kids.”

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