Pioneering Golden Knights saluted for 1st state football crown

Members of the Division I state champion Sussex Central football team celebrate with their title banner. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

GEORGETOWN — There were some shining stars in the galaxy that was Sussex Central High School’s 2018 football season.

In the universe of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, it was all about team. For the Golden Knights, there was no “I” in “We.”

A void in the trophy case was filled Dec. 1 when Sussex Central whipped Salesianum 33-7 to claim the DIAA Division I title – the first state championship in football in school history. Sussex Central had fallen short in the school’s four previous title game appearances.

The champion Golden Knights were honored on stage at the Dec. 17 Indian River School District board of education meeting.

“They are pretty special. I could tell stories and stories,” said Sussex Central head football coach John Wells. “We were about ‘team’ from Day 1.”

Coach Wells recalled a special moment several years ago when the seniors on this year’s squad were eighth-grade gridders.

“I asked, “Is this group?’ That is all I said,” Coach Wells said. “The seniors, two in particular, said, ‘Yes is it.’ I didn’t say, ‘Is this the group to win a state championship?’ They knew. That goal was already in their minds. They set that goal from Day 1.”

“I know as a district sometimes we have to fight to keep our kids at Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School. I think the school board and the administrators have done a great job trying to make our schools better and keep those kids,” said Coach Wells.

After a season-opening 26-6 loss to Hodgson Vo-Tech, the Golden Knights struck gold, reeling off 12 consecutive wins – seven by shutout. In the post-season, they tamed Appoquinimink 36-7, and edged Dover in a 21-20 semifinal thriller for a berth in the championship game.

In voting for all-state honors, SCHS had three first-team selections: Kasim Lewis, Zion Reed and Isaiah Barnes. Those three, along with Dominique Smith and Malik Copes, earned first-team All-Henlopen Conference laurels.

“Obviously, we were very blessed to have some outstanding individual athletes who were recognized at the conference and state level but as you know the sport of football is the quintessential team sport,” said Sussex Central High School Principal Dr. Bradley Layfield. “We were lucky enough on Saturday, Dec. 1 to bring home the first ever Division I state championship at Sussex Central, and the first in Sussex County in 37 years.”

Coach Wells noted that he cannot vote for his own players in all-conference and all-state voting. “I think the ones that were all-state and all-conference will be the first to tell you that there were players on this team that should have been first-team all-state. And they weren’t,” said Coach Wells. “That’s the way the votes go. Teams from upstate, maybe they didn’t see us play.”

But a lot of supporters from Sussex Central and Indian River district did. Coach Wells thanked everyone for their unending support of the team through its amazing and historic journey. He then turned to the several dozen players on stage.

“It is about commitment. These guys were committed. When we win and bring that trophy home it’s great. But there are stories behind that trophy. The trophy is only a symbol. But it symbolizes the hard work and dedication that these young men put forth,” said Coach Wells. “This team was resilient, focused, goal-oriented. I can’t say enough about them.”

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