Senators in tourney hunt but rival CR aims to spoil their chances

DOVER — A month ago, Dover High’s state tournament dreams were all but dead.

But three straight victories have brought them back to life.

Now, perhaps the only thing that stands in the Senators’ football playoff path is rival Caesar Rodney.

The Senators (4-2 Henlopen North, 5-4 overall) and Riders (3-3 North, 3-6 overall) square off today at 7 p.m. in Camden.

It’s the 68th recorded meeting between the crosstown rivals, with Dover leading, 34-30-4.

Dover football Coach Rudy Simonetti. Delaware State News file photo

This year’s Dover players, though, are a little more interested in current events.

The Senators need to win this regular-season finale to have a chance at a DIAA Division I at-large state tourney berth. With a few Blue Hen Conference games left to be played on Saturday, Dover won’t know its fate for sure until the tournament committee meets on Sunday.

Clearly, though, any successful equation for the Senators starts with them beating CR.

“I just tell them, hey, if we go out there, win this week, go 1-0, beat CR, winning takes care of itself in a way,” said Dover coach Rudy Simonetti. “We’ve just got to worry about us and not focus on anything else.”

And it’s not like the Riders don’t have their own incentive for trying to win tonight.

A win over Dover would go a long way toward easing the frustrations of a tough season. CR is trying to beat the Senators for only the second time since 2013.

The Riders have been competitive in most of their games this season, averaging 27 points on offense while splitting their last four contests. They’re a couple single-digit losses away from being in contention themselves for a state tourney berth.

CR coach Dan Candeloro. Delaware State News file photo

“We’re competing in every game and the kids are still trying hard and still working hard,” said CR coach Dan Candeloro. “Hopefully we can put together a good game for our last game and go home a winner.

“It’s Dover-CR, all the kids are excited. It’s all about that community bragging rights kind of thing for the year. I’m sure they feel the same way.”

For CR, trying to beat the Senators starts with trying to contain Dover’s dynamic senior running back, Vonnie Peace. In last year’s meeting, Peace erupted for 337 yards and five TDs on 18 carries.

The Riders want to make the Senators drive the ball as opposed to getting big chunks of yardage at one time.

“Both on offense and defense, we want to extend drives,” said Candeloro. “We don’t want to make it a 60-yard run for them and then we go three-and-out. We want to extend both sides of the game.”

The Senators know that knocking them out of state tournament contention would make CR’s season.

“Coach Candy and his staff do a great job,” said Simonetti. “They’ve got some good kids over there. And it’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter who’s fighting for a playoff spot or not.”

Dover’s last two victories certainly haven’t come easily. The Senators had to rally in the fourth quarter before edging Sussex Tech in overtime two weeks ago.

Then, last week, Dover forced a last-second goal-line fumble to top Sussex Central for the first time since 2013.

Simonetti expects to need that kind of resiliency again tonight.

“Adversity has hit us and we faced it,” he said. “We haven’t gone into a shell, we’ve been resilient in not letting our emotions get too high or too low. And we’ve been finding out a way to close out our games lately.

“You’re always going to have mistakes. In football, it’s the team that makes the least amount of mistakes that wins.”

Tournament talk

Going into the final weekend of the regular season, four of the six spots in the Division I state tournament bracket look to be locked up.

Smyrna (Henlopen North) and Hodgson (Blue Hen Flight A) have earned the automatic bids as division champions with Middletown (8-1) and Sussex Central (8-2) the first in line for at-large berths.

The candidates for the last two bids — Dover, Salesianum, St. Georges and Concord — are all 5-4 going into the weekend.

In Division II, the Henlopen South title will be decided tonight when Delmar hosts Woodbridge. But both squads appear to be in the eight-team tourney field no matter who wins.

The only other Henlopen team in line for a tournament bid is Lake Forest (7-2), which needs to beat Milford tonight to guarantee its spot.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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