Riders defeat Laurel 4-1 for Henlopen boys soccer crown

FREDERICA — It wasn’t a long drought, but the Caesar Rodney High boys’ soccer team did not like the fact its last conference championship came in 2014.

The Riders had a chance to fix that on Saturday night.

Four different players scored as Caesar Rodney defeated Laurel High 4-1 at the DE Turf complex to capture the Henlopen Conference championship. The game pitted the Northern Division champion (CR) against the Southern Division winner (Laurel).

Not only did CR not win the conference the last two years, the Riders did not have a chance to play in the game, finishing second in the Henlopen North both times.

“It’s nice to get it back three years later,” said CR coach Darrell Gravatt. “We were really hungry. We have nine seniors and we were real close to being in this game last year but we didn’t make it. So we were real hungry and trying hard to get back here all year.”

Three of those seniors scored goals Saturday. David Haynes, Tommy McPoyle and Kyle Wentling got on the scoresheet while junior Chikezie Ikwuagwu had the other goal.

Haynes and McPoyle are both senior co-captains while Wentling is in his first year with the Riders after transferring from Polytech.

“Being able to come in with such a great group of guys to win a conference championship is a memory that will last forever,” Wentling said. “The chemistry with this team is unbelievable. We’re best friends on and off the field.”

Caesar Rodney improved to 14-2 while Laurel dropped to 12-3 overall.

McPoyle opened the scoring in the game’s fifth minute and added a pair of assists later in the contest. Ikwuagwu, who assisted on the first goal, gave the Riders a 2-0 halftime lead before Wentling and Haynes doubled that advantage in the second half.

“We worked really hard all week,” Ikwuagwu said. “Everything we’ve done has been leading toward this moment. “We played our game. We played like coach wanted us to. We just went out there and did our thing.”

Caesar Rodney out-shot Laurel 26-9. Jailon Gillespie kept the Bulldogs in the game with 16 saves while Carlos Perez scored the lone goal.

Nathan Reid and Blake Hardy combined to make seven saves for Caesar Rodney. Reid also stopped a penalty kick.

“We continued to do what we’ve been doing all year,” Gravatt said. “We played CR soccer, ping and move with one-two touch and changed the point of attack with high pressure on defense. Everyone played their role as close to perfection as they could and had a lot of confidence in their teammates.”

Both teams will be playing in the upcoming state tournaments.

The Riders are seeded third and will take on No. 6 Newark in the Division I tournament on Saturday at Caravel Academy (5 p.m.). Laurel earned the second seed for the Division II tournament and a first-round bye.

The Bulldogs will face the winner of Archmere-Delaware Military at Dover High on Saturday (5 p.m.).

Laurel was playing in the Henlopen Conference championship for the first time. It is the only other school in the Southern Division to make the final since it the game began being played in 2013. Indian River had won the South every year until this season.

“It’s great to see their program play this well to get into the finals,” Gravatt said. “They had a great season and hopefully they’ll do some serious damage in their tournament. They’ve come a long way and it’s great to see.”

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