Dover forces late fumble, tops Sussex Central 28-21 in North showdown

Dover’s Javon Peace rushes against Sussex Central in the first quarter Friday night at Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The feeling of deja vu was palpable.

The same two teams squared off in the same kind of down-to-the-wire nail-biter.

Even the deciding sequence played out on basically the same stretch of Dover High artificial turf.

Only this time, when it finally ended, it was Dover’s players who could happily run to each other in celebration while Sussex Central’s players could only shuffle to their sideline in dejection.

Unlike last year’s Division I state semifinals, it was the Senators who pulled out a 28-21 Henlopen North football victory over the Golden Knights on Friday to keep their state tourney hopes alive.

For Dover (4-2 North, 5-4 overall), the hard-earned win was the program’s first over the Golden Knights since 2013, snapping a seven-game losing streak in the series. Defending state champion Central (5-2 North, 7-2 overall) is still expected to make the state tourney.

But the whole night turned on one memorable play with 15 seconds left.

Sussex Central’s Shihiem Williams rushes against Dover’s Tamir Cadwell in the first quarter.

The Knights were driving, with the ball at the Senators’ 13, when quarterback Michael Glanden took off on a scramble. Just as he was reaching the goal line, he was hit by Dover’s Javontae Wyman.

The ball squirted loose, across the end zone, where it was recovered by the Senators.

The referees talked about the play for a few moments before finally ruling it a fumble and Dover’s ball. The moment was made even more dramatic by the fact that the head referee at first put his arms up to signal a touchdown before switching to a touchback.

All the Senators knew was that, after taking a knee, the victory was their’s.

“That’s crazy, we’ve got deja vu after that,” admitted senior running back Vonnie Peace. “I was kind of nervous — I was — because the exact same thing happened last year. That was very exciting.

“I don’t know, there’s emotions everywhere, it’s crazy.”

Peace admits he thought a lot about Central’s final-minute, game-winning TD pass in last year’s state semis.

“Coming into this game, I kept replaying the same play with 30 seconds left to go to the state championship,” he said. “I kept replaying it and replaying it and replaying it.”

Dover quarterback Elijah Allen, right, and running back Javon Peace celebrate a touchdown.

After rallying to beat Sussex Tech in overtime last week, Dover coach Rudy Simonetti called the end of Friday’s game “agonizing.”

“But we came out on the right side of it again,” he said. “Hats off to Central. They’re a well-coached football team. It’s always a battle when we play.

“They’re resilient,” Simonetti said about his players, “They’re tough kids. We’ve had some adversity this season, we just had to look at it straight ahead and rise up.”

In a contest that Dover led 21-7 in the third quarter, the Knights stormed back to tie it on senior Kasim Lewis’ four-yard TD run followed by his two-point conversion run with just 5:45 remaining.

Dover, though, responded with one its most clutch drives of the season. The Senators marched 58 yards on nine plays to retake the lead at 28-21 on Peace’s three-yard scoring run just 2:01 left.

Peace, who missed last week’s game with a leg injury, finished with three touchdowns and 165 yards on 22 carries. But quarterback Elijah Allen (10-of-17, 124 yards), the basketball standout who took last year off from football, was also big on the game-winning drive.

He completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive for 33 yards and added a six-yard run.

Both squads scored on their first drives of the contest but the Senators went into halftime with a 14-7 advantage after Peace’s 13-yard scoring run in the second quarter. He set up the TD when he pulled in a 42-yard pass from Allen.

Dover then made it 21-7 when it scored on its first drive of he second half. QB Jordan Moran scored on a one-yard run after a 48-yard run by Peace got the Senators to Central’s eight.

Dover defenders swarm Sussex Central’s Phillip Stratton in the first quarter.

After Akil Garrett’s goal-line interception stopped one drive by the Knights, Central finally got rolling.

TyJhir Sheppard-Parker’s 36-yard TD run late in the third quarter pulled the Knights within 21-13. It was his second touchdown of the night.

There’s still some key games left to be played in the neck-and-neck battle for the final at-large bids in the Division I state tourney.
The Senators know the only thing they can do is try to end the regular season with a win at rival Caesar Rodney next Friday night.

“We won a playoff game,” said Simonetti. “We’ve got another one next week.”

But, at least for one night, Dover’s players got to put to rest that heart-breaking loss to Central from a year ago.

“This time we came out on top,” said Simonetti. “It good to see for the kids that it went our way this time. We kind of exorcised some demons.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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