Knight, Eagles top defending Division I state champion Knights

Wayne Knight of Smyrna takes a handoff and finds an opening in the defense to score the first touchdown of the night against Sussex Central. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

SMYRNA — Wayne Knight had practiced the play all week but was not sure if the Smyrna High football team would end up using it on Friday night.

When the play call came in, Knight knew it would be wide-open. The Smyrna High sophomore running back just had to execute.

Known for his running touchdowns, Knight threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Makhi Jackson to highlight Smyrna’s 20-7 victory over Sussex Central High in the Henlopen Conference Northern Division opener for both teams. Knight also rushed for a touchdown as the Eagles improved to 1-2 with the victory over the defending state champions.

The play called for a toss to Knight, who had a defender draped all over him but was able to throw it to a wide-open Jackson.

“We just started that this week,” Knight said. “I don’t know if it was planned for tonight, but he called it and it worked. I was proud, I’ve never thrown one before.”

While that play stole the show, it was Smyrna’s defense that did most of the talking all night long.

The Eagles held Sussex Central to two first downs in the first half as they led 12-0 at halftime. Both first downs came via penalties on a pass interference and a personal foul.

The Golden Knights’ lone touchdown came after their defense had returned a fumbled handoff inside the Smyrna 15-yard line.

Smyrna quarterback Aidan Sanchez stays in the pocket to throw a pass in the first half against Sussex Central.

The Eagles defense was paced by Debo Williams, Hugo Harp, Masen Wilson and Erik Larson, who each recorded multiple sacks.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” Williams, a senior linebacker, said of the performance. “Me being the leader of the defense, I got to have a great defense coming with me. We work hard for that.”

Smyrna coach Mike Judy credited the work up front and the gameplan by defensive coordinator Dan Wagner, for why the Eagles were able to stymie the Sussex Central Wing-T attack.

“The biggest thing against a physical, run-heavy team like Sussex Central who is so good at what they do, is you really have to be aggressive and try to out-physical their physicality,” Judy said. “If you can do that, I think you stand a good chance. Luckily our defense is a bunch of maniacs. They love getting after people.”

Knight got the Eagles on the board with a three-yard rushing touchdown on their first drive of the game. His pass play to Jackson came with 10:34 left in the second quarter.

“That’s a play that a kid with a little bit of magic in him does,” Judy said. “He was essentially hog-tied by the defender and was able to untuck the ball and throw it before I could yell no.”

Nick Richardson added a three-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. He then converted the two-point conversion with a pass to Williams.

Eagle linebacker Erik Larson catches TyJhir Sheppard-Parker of Sussex Central behind the line of scrimmage for a loss in the 2nd quarter Friday night.

Aidan Sanchez threw for 238 yards to pace the Eagle offense.

For a team who dropped two tight games to start the season, this was a step in the right direction. But Judy thinks the Eagles still have work to do before they welcome Salesianum, the team Sussex Central beat in last year’s Division I state title game, next Friday.
“Improvement is the key word, we’ve shown steady improvement despite two losses of getting better,” Judy said. “We’re still nowhere near where we need to be for our goals. As proud as I am of this win, we left too much out there. I told the kids I’m super proud of how they played but it’s not enough if we want to reach our goals. We’re ready to get back to work Monday because this upcoming test is going to be as big of a test as this game was.”

Williams agreed with his head coach.

“It shows we’re able to win,” Williams said. “It boosted our confidence even more than what we already had. It’s a stepping stone every game. We just came off of two losses so we can’t get big-headed. I’ve been on varsity since my freshman year, so I know what it takes to win. We just got to keep pounding every week and keep getting better.”

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