High school football: Woodbridge deal tough all around

Sussex Tech’s Maddex Blank and his teammates wearing a mask on the sidelines Friday night. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

For months now, the specter of COVID-19 has hung over the high school sports season.

Players and coaches were thrilled to get the chance just to play sports again.

But they returned to the fields and courts knowing that it could be taken away from them at any moment by a positive virus result.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for that fear to become a reality when Woobridge High announced on Friday afternoon that it had positive test results among staff and/or students.

The immediate impact was that the Blue Raiders’ season-opening football game with Delmar — a big showdown in the Henlopen South — was canceled on Friday night.

The situation seemed especially difficult for a Woodbridge program that just lost standout quarterback Troy Haynes to cancer last year.

“Heartbroken for my kids,” Blue Raiders’ coach Jed Bell posted on social media. “Screenings, sanitizing, masks, distancing — they have done EVERYTHING the right way since returning. In two years they have handled a lifetime of adversity.

“They WILL bounce back better men. Trust me, you don’t understand this pain until it hits firsthand.”

Of course, there’s also a ripple effect with something like this.

Woodbridge’s other fall sports teams can’t play either right now. And teams from other schools, who played the Raiders in field hockey and boys’ soccer last week, have taken the precaution of postponing their games, too.

Of course, Delmar’s football players also didn’t get to play their season opener on Friday.

Sussex Tech’s marching band playing the national anthem spaced apart on the visitors side bleachers before the game with Caesar Rodney Friday night.

For now, Woodbridge has listed its next two games, with Milford and Lake Forest, as cancellations.

Clearly, the situation will have a big impact on the South championship, which carries with it an automatic DIAA Division II state tournament berth.

The seven-game regular season doesn’t have any openings for makeup dates. While there was plenty of pre-season debate about what would happen in the event of COVID-19-related cancellations, there didn’t seem to be any conclusions.

The DIAA football committee set the minimum number of games played to be tournament-eligible at five this year. If it doesn’t play either of its next two games, Woodbridge will be left with only four.

“We are staying positive and looking forward for our opportunity to finally play,” said Bell, “as well as looking forward to working with members within our conference to ensure our opportunity to play at a minimum the five-game requirement in hopes of DIAA postseason eligibility.”

As word spread around the Henlopen Conference football world on Friday night, there was a lot of sympathy for Woodbridge and Delmar’s players.

“I’m sorry for Woodbridge,” Smyrna quarterback Aiden Sanchez said after the Eagles beat Dover, 40-7. “I know they have a lot of seniors and a lot of great players who would love to be out on the field. I feel for them. … We can’t take any moment for granted and we have to use it the best we can.”

“We just talked about it with the kids,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “I don’t think all of them knew. But we constantly, every day talk about how you’ve got to cherish every single moment you have because you just don’t when it’s going to end. And it could be no fault of your own.

“Everybody’s going to have to be prepared for that ebb and flow of what this is. We say this every year but it’s never been more in your face — that every moment could be your last one.”

Masking up

Friday night was the first time that football teams competed while wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

By all appearances, everything seemed fairly normal. The masks didn’t seem to affect the play — or the pace of the play.

Social distancing on the sidelines might need some more work, but for the most part, coaches say their players have bought into adhering to protocols.

Ravens cheerleaders are spaced apart and wearing masks during Friday’s game.

“The first day of camp, when we were allowed out there, I told them, ‘Here are the rules, either we play by them or we’re not going to play.’” Caesar Rodney coach Dan Candeloro said after his team beat Sussex Tech, 14-0 “So they’ve been great. We haven’t had a problem with kids with their masks.

“From day one, we’ve walked on the field with our masks on and we’re still doing it. The kids have been great. They follow directions. It’s a shame you can only bring so many kids with you to a game but they’ve been great. There’s a lot of precautions were taking and the officials have been great with us dealing with that.”

Teams are limited to suiting up 40 players for games.

The teams also didn’t go into the locker rooms, staying outside during halftime. That wasn’t a problem with the nice weather on Friday but could be an issue if the weather is wetter or colder.

Spreading the wealth

With Sanchez completing 28-of-41 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns (as well as two interceptions), there were plenty of catches to go around in Smyrna’s win.

Caravel transfer Jermaine Earl had seven receptions for 110 yards in his Smyrna debut with Yamir Knight adding eight catches for 101 yards. Wayne Knight had a big night, too, catching four passes for 98 yards, running for 105 yards on four carries and scoring one TD and four two-point conversions.

In all, four different players caught scoring passes while seven players had at least one reception.

“Being able to hit that many receivers and get yards, being able to spread the field out, it makes it that much harder on the defense,” said Sanchez.

Of course, Smyrna doesn’t stop attacking, no matter what the score. With the Eagles leading 32-7 in the fourth quarter, Sanchez put the ball in the air on seven of Smyrna’s last eight plays from scrimmage.

Dover update

The Senators’ defense made some big plays in Friday’s loss with three interceptions plus a fourth-down stop to set up Dover’s lone scoring drive.

Marquis Guy, Teyvion McCoy and Tyir Trott all intercepted passes for the Senators, with two of them coming in the end zone.

Offensively, Dover used both juniors Jordan Moran and Jamir Richardson at quarterback. Moran, who scored the Senators’ lone TD on a one-yard run, completed 8-of-16 passes for 69 yards, including five catches for 40 yards by tight end Elijah Sessoms.
Senior Qualeak Bumbrey bulled his way for a team-high 51 yards on 14 carries for the Senators, who netted 166 yards in the contest.

“Dover is obviously a super, super athletic team,” said Smyrna’s Judy. “They’re no different from any other year. They’re going to have a great season.”