Hutchinson finishes off stellar Smyrna defensive effort

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Smyrna linebacker Eli Hutchinson makes the game-winning tackle against Sallies’ Colby Reeder. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

NEWARK — The first person to meet Eli Hutchinson during the celebration was quarterback Nolan Henderson.

Henderson went for a hug, but the instant he made contact, Hutchinson dropped to the ground.

As the Smyrna High football team started a chaotic celebration around him, Hutchinson was trying to pop his dislocated shoulder back into place.

Hutchinson made the game-winning stop on fourth down at the four-yard line to give the Eagles their first Division I football state championship, with a dramatic 32-26 overtime win over Salesianum on Saturday at Delaware Stadium.

When Hutchinson hit Salesianum’s running back Colby Reeder behind the line of scrimmage, the pair hit so hard that the senior linebacker’s shoulder popped out of its socket.

Everyone stormed toward midfield except Hutchinson, who was on the ground. That was when he saw the penalty flag.

A quick thought entered his mind — was he offside? But no, the flag was was for an illegal shift on Sallies.

“I was celebrating on the ground,” Hutchinson said. “I was just thinking about that penalty (flag) there, hoping it wasn’t me.”

The group of players around Hutchinson grew and grew until they realized he was hurt. His teammates asked if he was OK, before receiving the go-ahead to give him a group bear hug.

The second person who reached Hutchinson was his twin brother, Josh. The two were leading the Eagles in tackles in the fourth quarter before Josh Hutchinson had to leave the game with an injury.

The same thing happened the first time Smyrna played Sallies this year and the Sals ran away with a 76-56 win. This time, Eli Hutchinson wouldn’t let that happen.

“I said, ‘It’s not going to be the same as last time,’” Eli Hutchinson said. “I had to replace him.”

“I love him, he loves me and I wouldn’t want to celebrate with anyone else,” he added. “He’s been right beside me since the beginning.”

Smyrna coach Mike Judy said the defensive call on the big stop was not for an all-out blitz. The Eagles just matched personnel with the Sals and Hutchinson found the right gap.

“He sniffed it out and let his instincts take over,” Judy said.

“I tried to time it perfectly,” Eli Hutchinson said. “It wasn’t the initial call to blitz. But I kind of knew what they were doing at that point. I watched a lot of film with my brother and he had told me, if it comes down to that, that’s what they’re going to do.”

The Smyrna defense held the Sals to one touchdown in the second half plus overtime. Reeder, Sallies’ star running back and the Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year, was kept out of the end zone after he scored seven times against Smyrna in Week Three.

“We were going to show them that we were not a mediocre defense,” Eli Hutchinson said. “We came out in the second half and dominated.”

The moment was especially sweet for Smyrna defensive coordinator Dan Wagner, who has been at Smyrna his entire coaching career, which spans 17 years. He’s been through all the ups and downs.

Wagner’s first season with Smyrna came when he was still a student at the University of Delaware. Bill DiNardo, Salesianum’s current coach, is the person who helped get him that job.

Wagner, a Middletown grad, was trying to join DiNardo’s staff at Middletown back then but there was no paid positions available. DiNardo directed Wagner to Jeff Wiener who had just left Middletown to be the head coach at Smyrna.

Wagner stood in the locker room before the game Saturday and took a second to remember all he had been through to get to this moment.

“I never really pictured it,” Wagner said. “Every once in a while you think you’ll have a good team but maybe somebody in the conference is a little better. You always hope for this but it’s surreal to experience it. I’ll never forget any part of this ride.”

For what it’s worth, Eli Hutchinson was able to pop his shoulder back in and said he was fine.

“I was ready to come back out,” he said. “And do another play.”

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