Raiders happy to have hope

Raiders coach Jed Bell talks to his players. Woodbridge was one of the schools in the state that didn’t allow its student-athletes to formally work out as a group over the summer. The Raiders only started team practices on the first day of the pre-season, Sept. 28. Delaware State News file photo

BRIDGEVILLE — Woodbridge High was so close to winning another Division II football state crown last fall.

A mere point was all that separated the Blue Raiders and Howard in a 16-15 state title-game loss at Delaware Stadium.

And all Woodbridge’s players wanted was a chance to redeem themselves this season.

“That’s been their goal since we walked off the field up there,” said Raiders’ coach Jed Bell. “That’s what kind of pushed them through the summer. Really, we’ve used that as a tool just to keep the guys going because, mentally, it’s just been draining for them.”

So it was pretty crushing for Woodbridge’s players when it looked like they might not even be eligible for this year’s DIAA Division II state tournament because of COVID-19-related issues at the school.

But the Raiders got their hope back on Tuesday when the Henlopen Conference found a way for them to play a fifth game this season.

Fellow Henlopen South member Lake Forest (0-1 South, 0-2 overall) agreed to host Woodbridge on Monday at 5 p.m. That will allow the Bridgeville school to complete its shutdown after reporting three COVID-19 positive test results in the building two weeks ago.

The football team will then be able to practice on Saturday and Sunday before facing the Spartans.

The Raiders’ first two games of the season were already canceled. If they couldn’t face Lake Forest this weekend, they would have been left with only four regular-season games.

Teams are required to play a minimum of five games this year to qualify for a state tournament berth.

Bell said it was great to be able to tell his players the good news on Tuesday.

“They were fired up,” he said. “Every day it was questions and concerns. The whole time, kind of behind the scenes, we were pushing and just trying to find a way to make it happen.

“When I could finally tell them, it was pretty cool to see their faces and their responses. They were really excited. As a head coach, it’s my job to fight for our kids and push for them to have opportunities. It’s all about them and giving them chances.”

But, in some ways, rescheduling a game was the easiest part of the equation.

Woodbridge was one of the schools in the state that didn’t allow its student-athletes to formally work out as a group over the summer. The Raiders only started team practices on the state’s first day of the pre-season, Sept. 28.

Now Woodbridge has to face a Lake Forest squad that’s already played two games. The Spartans lost a tough 20-19 decision at St. Mark’s last Friday.

Bell, though, has faith in his team, which returns a number of key players from last year’s 11-2 campaign.

“That’s kind of the name of our game to begin with,” said Bell. “We just do what we do. We’ve got kids that we trust. We’ve got kids that grew up fast last year, starting so many sophomores and juniors for the first time.

“You could really see the difference this year in camp — just in maturity and knowledge of the system and understanding their roles and responsibilities. We feel good about that.”

The Raiders, as much as any football squad in the state, understand that nothing is guaranteed for them this fall — even now.

If they really are determined to make it back to the state tournament, they’re going to have to work hard for it — and keep their fingers crossed.

“The message that we echoed — and it’s one that I know every team is echoing — this thing is not guaranteed at all,” said Bell. “Who knows? We could get shut down again. Another team we’re supposed to play could get shut down, the state as a whole could get shut down.

“You say it but then, when you live it, that’s when it hits you and you realize this thing is for real.”

Notes

Tonight, 302Sports.com is carrying the Smyrna-Sussex Central and Cape Henlopen-Milford games. … In just two games, Smyrna quarterback Aidan Sanchez has completed 52-of-75 passes for 851 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. … Sophomore Yamir Knight is Smyrna’s leading receiver with 16 catches (for 211 yards and three TDs) while junior Wayne Knight has a team-high 452 all-purpose yards. Wayne Knight has also scored a team-best 38 points … Along with Dover-Sussex Tech, the St. Mark’s-Wilmington Friends contest was also canceled for tonight. … Caesar Rodney is the first Henlopen North team that Delmar has faced since beating Cape Henlopen, 42-14, to start the 2018 season. … With Monday’s game being played at Lake Forest, Woodbridge is now slated to play one its five games at home.