Eagles top unbeaten Salesianum 18-10

Smyrna receiver Makhi Jackson catches a pass and muscles his way past Sallies defender Cooper Brown for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter to put the Eagles up 12-10 just before halftime. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

SMYRNA — A couple weeks ago, Smyrna High’s football team was winless two games into its schedule.

This morning, the Eagles are 2-2 and clearly feeling a lot better about themselves after toppling previously-unbeaten Salesianum, 18-10, on Friday night.

Smyrna’s defense surrendered only a first-quarter touchdown to the Sals (3-1) before shutting them out in the second half.

The game more or less ended with senior Raymond Nyameke making an interception on a desperation pass by Sallies with four seconds remaining. A few moments later, the Eagles were celebrating on the field as fireworks lit up the night sky.

Offensively, senior quarterback Aiden Sanchez had a big game, completing 28-of-46 passes for 383 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both scoring passes went to senior receiver Makhi Jackson, who finished with eight receptions for 167 yards.

But the victory was overshadowed by a scary moment when Sanchez was injured with 3:10 remaining.

The Sals’ James Johnson had just intercepted a pass near the goal line and, while returning it, ran full speed into Sanchez, who may have made a touchdown-saving tackle on the play. Sanchez lay motionless for a few moments before being tended to by medical staff.

The senior was later able to move his arms and legs, giving the crowd a thumbs up before being taken from the field in an ambulance.

“That’s my best friend,” linebacker Debo Williams said about Sanchez. “He’ll be back and he’ll be back even stronger. I believe in him.”

“I hope he’s going to be OK,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “We talk about adversity all the time. But adversity to a kid is making a first down. Real adversity is when you go to war with 50 kids and you walk off the field with 48.”

With Smyrna still clinging to the 12-10 lead it held at halftime, the Eagles got a big insurance touchdown when Wayne Knight swept in on a six-yard run with 8:43 remaining in the contest. The TD capped off an eight-play, 75-yard march.

On the play before the touchdown, Smyrna converted on a fourth-and-two when Sallies jumped offsides.

Williams missed last year’s game with Sallies. The Sals pulled out a 35-16 victory on their way to the Division I state finals.

“Last year I tore my MCL right before this game,” said Williams, who made a number of big stops. “It felt so good to be able to get back and lead my team. We stayed aggressive (in the second half).”

“They showed up and played extremely hard,” Judy said about his defense.

In a first half that included a pair of lead changes, the Eagles took back the lead when Sanchez hooked up with Jackson for their second TD of the half. This one, a 13-yarder with 3:56 left in the second quarter, put Smyrna up 12-10.

Sanchez completed 14-for-27 passes for 215 yards in the first half with Jackson pulling in five catches for 132 yards.

Smyrna came out throwing, with Sanchez completing five straight passes to cover all 80 yards on the game’s opening drive. The last 61 yards of that march came on a Sanchez to Jackson for the touchdown.

Jackson caught the ball in the flat for what looked like about a 15-yard game. But the senior somehow stepped out of a tackle, stayed inbounds and sprinted down the sidelines for the TD.

“Offensively we did what we had to do to move the ball with a very young offensive line,” said Judy. “We’re very much not a team that says we’re going to run it on these guys. We’re going to try to be prepared for the situations that they’re going to present and take advantage of those.”

The Sals answered with a similar touchdown later in the first quarter. QB Dylan Mooney sprinted out and found fullback Liam Mara all along the sidelines.

Mara only had to avoid one defender before completing the 55-yard scoring catch, Hunter Simmons’ PAT kick put Sallies ahead, 7-6, with 1:24 left in the first quarter.

Sallies stretched its advantage to 10-6 on a Simmons 24-yard field goal in the second quarter. That came after Smyrna’s defense stopped the Sals at its six yard line.

While winning two in a row is nice, Williams knows the Eagles still have a long way to go.

“We’re going week by week and we’ve got to stay humble,” he said. “The same we came back, the same way it can be taken away from us.”

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