Panthers aim for success after ending 2-year losing streak

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith

WOODSIDE — Kevin Smith faced the Polytech High home stands and made sure to take it all in.

This was a special moment, a moment which hadn’t happened since 2014.

Last Friday, the Panthers celebrated their first victory in 13 games. They used a 20-point second half to defeat Delcastle 20-15, the last time Polytech had won a football game was against Dover on Oct. 31, 2014.

“It was great to turn around and see the crowd all stand up and applaud,” Smith said. “It was good for the kids to just jump around and hug each other. Now we know what it takes and what it feels like.

“Now we want to try to keep the momentum going, which is tough because we’re entering what I think is the best conference in the state. But these kids can now see that, ‘Oh we can win football games.’”

Polytech (1-2) opens the Henlopen Conference Northern Division portion of its schedule at 7 p.m. tonight against Cape Henlopen (2-1). The game was originally at Polytech but has been moved to Cape Henlopen due to field conditions. Polytech will still be considered the home team.

Smith is back coaching the Panthers after a one-year hiatus to focus on his duties as the Polytech athletic director. He first came to the school in 2013 when he led Polytech to a 5-5 season before a 4-6 year in 2014.

Polytech lost the last game of Smith’s first stint as coach in the 2014 season finale. That started a 13-game losing streak which included an 0-10 record in 2015 and two defeats to start this season.

“It’s been a rocky road for these kids,” Smith said. “They’ve started to buy into the new staff over the last few weeks. I just love these kids for just staying with it and for fighting through all the adversity they’ve been through.”

It wasn’t just the win that made Smith so proud of his team last Friday, it was how the Panthers did it.

They rallied to go up 13-7 in the third quarter but gave up a touchdown in the fourth quarter as Delcastle took a 15-13 lead. Polytech had a response though, Anwar Dwyer scored an 87-yard touchdown on a screen and the Panthers forced some key turnovers to preserve the victory.

“That was the real telling point of what kind of team we’ll have this year,” Smith said. “Most teams that went through all these guys have been through would be like, ‘Oh no, here we go again,’ when they gave up a lead. But our kids, and we preached this, played hard for all four quarters and made sure they finished the game. It was nice to see that.”

Smith knows this is still a rebuilding process, and one win doesn’t mean the Panthers will be able to take the Henlopen North by storm.

But he hopes it inspires his team to compete closely with the rest of the conference. Polytech wasn’t really in many games in 2015, the Panthers were shut out in four contests and scored seven points or less in six of their 10 games.

“All you can ask for is for the kids to play hard,” Smith said. “Instead of letting the clock run late in games, let’s stay in some games. Maybe we can keep it close, get to the fourth quarter and who knows what can happen. I just want those guys to know they always have a chance. They’re good football players and the more they keep plugging along, the better we can be.”

Smith credited some of his veterans like A.J. Foster, Doug Reed, Nate Thomas, Chris Gordon and Jacob Hadik for keeping the team together.

And the Panthers need any veteran presence it can find. There’s only eight seniors on the roster and most of the coaching staff is brand new, with some former players who were here under Smith like Gabe Brown, Austin Rains and Alex Winchester.

Smith thanked those guys for helping instill a sense of confidence at Polytech.

“The focus was just to believe,” Smith said. “We put pads on, we can play football. I want to have them believe that we can compete and play for four quarters. My big thing is to finish everything we do, whether its academics, football, drills, all you can do is give 100 percent and play as a team. If we can keep doing that, we’ll make positive strides.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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