FROM THE SPORTS EDITOR: Eagles’ Wagner won’t forget special year

 

Dan Wagner has been part of the Smyrna High football program longer than anyone.

The defensive coordinator has been on the Eagles’ coaching staff for 17 seasons.

That’s a lot of ups and downs in a program that has gone through its lean years.

So maybe Wagner appreciated Smyrna’s memorable 32-26 overtime victory over Salesianum in the Division I state championship game as much as anybody.

Certainly, Wagner will never forget the final play of the contest when linebacker Eli Hutchinson stopped Sals’ running back Colby Reeder for a three-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal from the one.

“Guys were throwing helmets. … I’ll never forget any part of this ride,” said Wagner. “This has been a special, special group.”

Wagner may be one of the few defensive coordinators ever who can say his squad chopped 50 points off its opponent’s score from one game to the next in the same season.

But that’s what the Eagles did — limiting Sallies to 26 points on Saturday after getting run over, 76-56, by the Sals in September.

Wagner said a lot of work went into making sure the outcome was different the second time around.

“These kids took it to heart — 76 — everything that was in the paper and all over the place,” said Wagner. “We’ve been making adjustments for weeks and weeks and weeks in anticipation of a run like this. We went back multiple times on weekends looking at video of the first Sallies game. There were small, little things across the board that we did incorrectly.

“It made a big difference. The kids bought in and they did the little things right.”

No matter what Smyrna does in the future, this will be remembered as a special season for the Eagles.

And, even as Smyrna’s players were packing up their equipment after Saturday’s big win, Wagner realized how much he’s going to miss this group of players.

“The day I’ve been dreading for a long time is tomorrow,” he said after the game. “This is all over with. Football is over with. … I’ve been dreading it for weeks and months.

“It could be worse,” Wagner agreed. “I’ve been on the other end of it many times. This is beautiful.”

By the numbers

Here’s some stats from Saturday’s state championship games, courtesy of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association:

•The estimated paid attendance of 10,094 set a new record for the football finals. While the crowd did seem bigger than that in 22,000-seat Delaware Stadium, people are able to spread out more when there’s no reserved seats.

•Smyrna and Division II winner Howard were both first-time football state champions. That’s the first time that feat was accomplished in the same year since 1994 when Christiana (Division I) and St. Elizabeth (Division II) both won their first state titles.

•William Penn downed Caesar Rodney, 20-14, and Middletown topped Mt. Pleasant, 13-6, in the inaugural Special Olympics unified flag football games. Those contests were played at Delaware Stadium between the Division I and Division II title games.

•Smyrna’s overtime victory was the sixth OT championship game in tournament history, which dates to 1971. There have been four Division I OT finals and two in Division II.

•Smyrna was the 14th different school to win the Division I title in the 45-year history of the tournament. Howard was the 19th different school to win the Division II title.

•Newark has the most appearances in a football state championship game with 14. The Yellowjackets are followed by Middletown (13), Salesianum (13), Archmere (12), William Penn (11), Delmar (8), St. Mark’s (8), Caesar Rodney (7), Laurel (6) and Indian River (6).

Odds and ends

•Dover High grad Trip Thurman, a senior offensive lineman at Florida, was one of the Gators’ team captains in their 29-15 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game on Saturday.

Thurman has started 17 straight games, including playing center for the first time in his collegiate career.

He’s only the third Florida offensive lineman since 2003 to start at three different positions (both guard spots, center) in the same season. Thurman and Florida will play Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.

•Don Parsley’s second stint as Milford High’s wrestling coach got off to a strong start when the Buccaneers won the Polytech Invitational on Saturday.

This weekend, the Bucs will host the Milford Invitational on Friday and Saturday. Nineteen teams are expected to take part in the annual early-season tournament.

•Well-known WBOC sports director Scott Abraham, who has been at Salisbury, Md.-based TV station since 2008, announced on Monday that he’s leaving the station for a job in Washington, D.C. His last day will be on Friday.

“Goodbye Delmarva,” Abraham tweeted. “Thank You for the Memories. We will miss you. Onto a new challenge in DC.”

•You can find out who made the DIFCA all-state football team today. We’ll have the full squad on our website (delawarestatenews.net) at noon.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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