Knights, Cavs meet for state title

DOVER — John Wells will be facing his third different Middletown High football head coach today.

The Sussex Central High coach says there’s one thing all three men have in common.

They all know how to produce good football teams.

Sussex Central football coach John Wells. Delaware State News file photo

So while the Golden Knights and Cavaliers don’t have a whole lot of head-to-head history, they do have a lot of respect for each other.

Both fourth-seeded Central (6-2) and No. 2 Middletown (7-0) know they’ll have to be at their best when they square off in today’s DIAA Division I state championship game.

Kickoff is set for noon at Dover High. As has been the case all season, only a limited number of pre-determined ticket holders, associated with both schools, will be allowed into the stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Division II state championship game is also being played today at Dover. Top-seeded Archmere (8-0) takes on No. 2 Howard (7-0) at 4:30 p.m.

The games can be seen online on the NFHS Network (for a fee) or heard on radio station WDEL (1150-AM/101.7-FM).

The only time Middletown and Central have met in a state championship game was in 2007, with the Cavs posting a 26-22 victory. They haven’t played since.

Zach Blum is now Middletown’s head coach. He was preceded by Mark DelPercio and Bill DiNardo.

“They’ve all been great in their own right,” said Wells. “Zach has done a great job keeping that going. They’re still playing that great defense.”

The two programs are no strangers to state championship games. The Knights are in the Division I finals for the sixth time since 2000 while the Cavs are in the title game for the 11th time in that same span.

Central won the program’s only state crown in 2018. Middletown has won three Division I state championships — the last in 2012 — and four more in Division II.

This year’s Cavaliers are scoring 32.8 points per game while giving up only 10.8. Middletown has registered three shutouts this fall with 34 of the 65 points it gave up coming in one game — a 41-34 win over St. Georges.

“I think, on video, they’re the best defense we’ve seen so far in my opinion,” said Wells. “And they’ve got skill. They can catch it, they can throw it, they can run it. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Central is scoring 26.3 points and giving up 12.9 ppg. During the Knights’ current five-game winning streak, though, they’re averaging 30.8 ppg and allowing only 11.4.

They also own a pair of shutouts.

Both teams are capable of putting together long, time-consuming drives.

“They run the ball more than people think they do,” Wells said about the Cavs. “They go on an eight-minute, 40-second drive to end the game against St. Georges (in the semifinals). You can’t go and sit on one or the other (passing or running), which is a nightmare.”

On the other hand, the Knights have shown they can throw the ball when they have to and not just rely on their Wing-T running game. Quarterback Zimir Gardner threw three TD passes in last week’s 38-34 comeback win over Smyrna in the semifinals, including the game-winner with five seconds left.

Central had only one touchdown pass this season before that game.

“I very much have respect for Middletown,” said Central halfback P.J. Stratton. “They definitely have a good defense. I’ve been watching their games, they seem like a really good team.”

“I know they’re coming to beat us because we just beat Smyrna,” said senior linebacker/lineman Alton Dennis. “They get to the state championship (game) a lot. They have a good coach and a good team. I know they’re a tough and physical team.”