Smyrna returns to D-I football finals: Unbeaten Eagles blank Wm. Penn 48-0


Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — It took 45 years for Smyrna High to get to its first football state championship game.

The Eagles weren’t about to wait that long to get to another one.

With its usual fast-paced style, second-seeded Smyrna scored 24 first-quarter points before steamrolling No. 3 William Penn, 48-0, in the DIAA Division I state semifinals in front of a packed house at Charles Williams Stadium on Saturday night.

The defending state champion Eagles (11-0) now head to their second straight state finals riding a 21-game winning streak. At long last, Smyrna will face rival Middletown (11-0), the top seed, in Saturday’s state finals at Delaware Stadium.

Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. in Newark with Woodbridge taking on Wilmington Friends in the Division II finals at 5:30 p.m.

Junior Leddie Brown ran for three touchdowns on Saturday and Will Knight scored twice in the one-sided win.

“It feels bigger because I’m a senior,” senior safety Jake Kasier said about getting back to the title game. “I know what those seniors last year feel like now. It’s hitting me.

“This year we have a huge target for us, everybody’s coming for us,” he added. “I think that pushes us every day in practice.”

“We wanted to make a statement that we’re here for good, we’re not leaving,” said Knight.

A year ago in the semifinals, Smyrna had to overcome an early 13-point deficit against the Colonials before pulling out a 30-13 victory. But the Eagles never trailed William Penn (11-0) in Saturday night’s rematch.

Knight caught a short crossing pass and turned it into an 89-yard touchdown reception from QB Nolan Henderson to give Smyrna a gaping 24-0 lead at the end of the second quarter. Henderson hit Knight in stride and the junior running cut upfield and outsprinted a pair of William Penn defenders to the end zone.

Earlier in the game, Brown (7 carries-74 yards) outran some defenders for a 46-yard scoring run.

Henderson threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes, also hooking up with Stephen Whaley on a 27-yarder in the second quarter, as the Eagles went into halftime with a 32-0 lead. As usual, Smyrna also padded its lead by running for two-point conversions on each of its four first-half touchdowns.

Henderson was 8-of-14 for 253 yards. He missed most of last year’s game against William Penn after injuring his neck and leaving the game on a stretcher.

“I definitely used that as motivation,” Henderson said. “It was nice to play the whole game and get some revenge.”

“I don’t think there was a player on this team who wanted to win this game more than he did,” said coach Mike Judy. “I know that leaving last year’s game before the second quarter really burned him up. He hung in there tonight, took some shots, and I could not be more proud of him.”

William Penn did have one good chance to score in the first half, picking up a first down at the Smyrna six-yard line. But the Eagles stopped the Colonials on four straight running plays.

On fourth down from the two, Smyrna cornerback Jake Soroko cut down William Penn running back Isaiah Gaynor on a sweep, just before he reached the goal line.

In the second half, an interception and 37-yard return by Kasier led to a 20-yard TD run from Knight (9 carries-36 yards). The touchdown also sent the contest to a running clock with Smyrna leading 40-0 with 6:52 still left in the third quarter.

A 44-yard pass from Henderson to Emon Roberts (4 catches-104 yards) led to another third-quarter TD, this one on a two-yard run from Brown.

Smyrna and Middletown haven’t played an official football game since 2012 when the Harvest Bowl rivalry was discontinued. The Cavaliers won 47-19 that year.

Senior linebacker Josh Hutchinson said the fact that Smyrna is playing Middletown in the finals shouldn’t change anything.

“We’re just going to approach it the same way we approached this one — prepare, prepare, prepare,” he said.

“It’s nice we can bring the Harvest Bowl back,” said Henderson.

“It’s going to be a ghost town (in Smyrna) because everybody’s going to be at the championship game,” said Knight.

Extra points

Smyrna and Middletown have already agreed to bring back the Harvest Bowl next season. The two teams will play next Sept. 8 in Middletown … Philadelphia Eagles running back Wendall Smallwood was on the Smyrna sidelines during the game and posed for photos with the Eagles after the game. … Smyrna got a break to start the game to start the contest when William Penn popped up the opening kickoff and caught it in the air. But the ball has to hit the ground or touch the returning team first. The 15-yard penalty gave the Eagles the ball at the William Penn 37 and led to a short scoring drive. … Smyrna recovered an onsides kick after its first touchdowns but didn’t end up scoring on the possession.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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