Smyrna eyes 2nd straight D-I title in matchup vs. Middletown

Smyrna’s Leddie Brown rushes against William Penn in last week’s Division l semifinal game. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Smyrna’s Leddie Brown rushes against William Penn in last week’s Division l semifinal game. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

NEWARK — To realize again how far Smyrna High’s football program has come in such a short amount of time is remarkable.

In 2013, not only did the Eagles win just two games but they were shut out four times.

It’s light years from the Smyrna squad that will take the field in Delaware Stadium this afternoon looking to claim its second straight DIAA Division I state championship.

These Eagles have won 21 straight games, average a gaudy 54.2 points per contest and can become the first Henlopen Conference school to win back-to-back state football crowns in Division I.

Just like in last year’s state finals, a big crowd is expected today when second-seeded Smyrna (11-0) faces No. 1 Middletown (11-0) at 1 p.m. in the first state championship-game showdown between the two old Harvest Bowl rivals.

”We were 2-8 my first year,” said Smyrna senior offensive tackle Jerren Carter. “I never thought we would be in the state championship game twice. It’s just an amazing feeling and I’ll never forget what came before this success.”

Both the Eagles and Cavaliers have mostly looked as unbeatable as their perfect records would suggest this fall.

Smyrna did have to rally from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Sussex Central, 22-14, on Oct. 22. Middletown, on the other hand, trailed Salesianum by three points at halftime before rolling to a 42-24 victory on Oct. 7.

Mostly, though, it’s been smooth sailing. Both teams can score points in bunches and both have posted shutouts.

“They’re a great team, I think we’re a great team,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “This should be a great match of not just good players but I think both sides have some good coaching going on and two communities that love sports. The intensity is going to be there, there’s no doubt about that.”

But big matchups, like state championship games, have a way of going against predictions.

In last year’s Division I title game, Smyrna faced Sallies after losing to the Sals in a wild 76-56 regular-season meeting. The rematch, though, was much more low scoring, with the Eagles winning 32-26, in overtime.

“After last year’s experience, everything that we typically lean on to win a game, throw that out the window,” said Judy. “It’s going to be the other things. It’s going to be attention to detail.

“If you don’t talk about turnovers, it’s going to come down to turnovers. If you don’t talk about field position, it’s going to come down to that. I think it’s going to be the team that plays the most complete game — offense, defense, special teams. … And even with two offenses that like to sling the ball around, it’s still going to come down to line play.”

Middletown coach Mark DelPercio knows the Cavaliers are going to have to find a way to slow down the Eagles’ high-powered offense.

Led by senior quarterback Nolan Henderson along with junior running backs Will Knight and Leddie Brown, Smyrna has scored at least 48 points in every game but the Sussex Central contest. And that’s with a running clock in the second half of all those games.

It’s the other things the Eagles do, too, like going for two after every touchdown, trying frequent onsides kicks and rarely punting that push up their scoring totals.

“They’re unbelievable,” said DelPercio. “They’re talented. They’ve got five (college) D-I football players on that team. They’re exceptional.

“I think any time you go into a game, whether it’s a championship game or a week-one game, you want to play great defense. It’s going to be where things begin and end. I don’t want to get into a shootout with these guys. With their firepower, that’s not a game I want to play.”

Of course, Smyrna’s players know that the Cavaliers would love to be the ones to end their run.

Led by sophomore quarterback Drew Fry, Middletown can hold its own offensively. But the Cavs’ strength is their defense, which has posted four shutouts and given up double digits in points only three times this season.

Middletown is going after the storied program’s eighth state title. The Cavs have won three in Division I, all since 2003.

And for whatever meaning can be attached to a preseason scrimmage, Middletown did edge the Eagles, 33-30, just before the start of the regular season.

”We knew who we wanted to play in the state championship game,” said the Eagles’ Carter. “We knew both teams worked hard to make it to this point. Now the time has come and at the end of the game, hopefully we’ll be victorious.”

Last year’s Smyrna-Sallies state title game was as memorable a state final as most people have seen.

It should be a similar scene this afternoon with Smyrna’s red-clad fans filling one side of Delaware Stadium and Middletown supporters, and their cow bells, filling the other side with blue.

“We’re going to be in the same locker room, we’re going to be on the same sideline,” said Judy. “It’s going to be a very similar day. You can’t ask for any more deja vu.”

And if the results are anything like last year’s game, the Eagles will go home happy.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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