Familiar foes Sussex Central, Salesianum meet for championship

NEWARK — Usually when Sussex Central High and Salesianum meet on the football field, the result does not matter.

The two teams always scrimmage each other in August, but rarely play during the regular season.

This time, it’s different.

The Golden Knights are searching for their first football state championship and will have to go through the Sals. The two teams meet at 1 p.m today at Delaware Stadium in Newark for the Division I title.

It is a rematch of the 2006 finals, which Salesianum won 34-17.

The last time the two schools played each other in a game that counted was in 2011 when the Sals knocked off Sussex Central 35-10 in the first round of the state tournament.

They’ve met every year since, though, in scrimmages. So the two coaches, Sussex Central’s John Wells and Salesianum’s Bill DiNardo, are quite familiar with one another.

“They still do what they’ve been doing for so long,” Wells said. “We’ve scrimmaged them for so long, Bill and I have become friends. I remember playing against Bill when he was at Middletown and we had some great battles. We’re familiar with them and they’re familiar with us.”

Sussex Central comes into the game on an 11-game winning streak. The Golden Knights (11-1) have not lost since the first week of the season to Hodgson and won back-to-back playoff games as the No. 3 seed over Appoquinimink and Dover.

Salesianum meanwhile enters the matchup playing its best football of the season.

The Sals made the tournament as the fifth seed and were paired against Middletown, who they lost to 34-7 in the season’s sixth week. Salesianum downed Middletown 49-25 in the playoffs, however, before upsetting top-seeded Hodgson 20-18 in the semifinals.

“We’ve continued to get better,” DiNardo said. “We’ve certainly improved as a team and individuals. The most important thing I’ve seen is we believe in each other. This year has been a pleasant surprise. We had a lot of questions coming into this season, we only returned three or four starters. But these kids continued to get better every week.”

Sussex Central is 0-4 in state championship games and lost three in a row from 2006-2008. The Golden Knights are one of only two current Henlopen Conference football programs, along with Polytech, which have not won a football state title.

Sussex Central had made the playoffs the last two seasons but was eliminated in the first round both times. The Golden Knights have been led by a large senior class this year and a strong defense, which has seven shutouts.

It’s the first time in 10 years Sussex Central has appeared in the finals.

“When we came together in 1996, we tried to build a strong program that can compete for titles,” Wells said. “We’ve feel we’ve done that. The players have bought in so they get a lot of credit. When this senior class came in as ninth graders they verbally said this is where they want to be. That’s been their battle cry since day one.”

Salesianum last made the state championship game in 2015 when it lost to Smyrna in overtime.

DiNardo agreed with Wells, saying there will be few secrets between the two teams based on the frequent scrimmages.

“John does such a great job,” DiNardo said. “The scrimmage we play is always so important for both of us. I think we both believe that scrimmage always tells us where we stand going into the season. I think we’re two evenly-matched teams.”

Staff writer Tim Mastro can be reached at tmastro@newszap.com or 741-8224.
Follow @TimMastroDSN on Twitter.

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