Smyrna, Lake Forest aim for division titles tonight

It’s championship season in the Henlopen Conference.

Two Kent County football squads can clinch their respective division titles tonight.

Smyrna coach Mike Judy by .

Mike Judy

In Smyrna, the Eagles (4-0 North, 7-1 overall) welcome Cape Henlopen (3-1 North, 5-2 overall) at 7:30 p.m.. A victory will lock up the Henlopen Northern Division for Smyrna.

In Felton, the Henlopen Southern Division crown will be decided when Lake Forest (4-0 South, 6-2 overall) hosts Indian River (4-1 South, 4-4) at 7:30 p.m.

While Lake Forest won the South last season, Smyrna hasn’t captured a North championship in football since the Eagles rejoined the division in 2007.

“It’s something special,” said senior lineman Phil Nix. “I don’t think everyone around here even realizes how special it is. Hopefully if we do win things everyone can realize it. It’s really crazy to think that we came from 2-8 (two years ago) and 5-5 (last season) to this position. But this town deserves it.”

“This is the dream position to be in,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “We’re not even done with the season yet and we’re able to clinch one of our goals from the beginning of the season. Our kids have worked relentlessly to be able to do that.”

Smyrna has won six division titles all-time but none recently. The last time they had an outright division championship team was in 1977 when they were in the Henlopen South. The Eagles did share the Henlopen South crown in a three-way tie with Laurel and Indian River in 1986.

The chance to win a conference championship comes in Judy’s second season as head coach. The Eagles went 5-5 a year ago which equaled their best mark since moving back to the North.

“Last year we were just trying not be in the cellar of the Henlopen North,” Judy said. “After last year we knew the types of kids that we were returning and we knew we would be better.”

“We came into this year knowing we could do something special,” Nix said. “Everyone around here wants this for the town and for the team ourselves. Our goal since the beginning of the season is to get a state championship and we know we have the talent to do it. We have to stay focused and make sure we can get there.”

Smyrna fell to Cape Henlopen 43-20 last year in the season finale.

“It left a sour taste in our mouths and our guys are excited to get another crack at it,” Judy said.

Defending South champion Lake Forest goes into tonight’s showdown with IR riding a 13-game South winning streak.

But the Spartans graduated a number of key players from the squad that put together an undefeated regular season last fall. For coach Freddie Johnson, that’s what makes this year’s success so rewarding.

“It’s really exciting to be in this position again, especially after we lost some really good football players,” he said. “We had to replace a lot of starters.”

Getting here certainly hasn’t been easy for either squad.

The Indians, under first-year head coach Phil Townsend, shook off an 0-3 start to win four of their last five games. They also bounced back from a 34-0 loss to Woodbridge just two weeks ago to edge Delmar, 21-20, to stay in contention for the division title.

Likewise, Lake Forest didn’t let two losses in their first three games stop them. The Spartans have won five games in a row.

Almost all Lake’s games have been nail-biters, though. Last week’s 55-0 victory over Seaford was the only one of its games that was decided by more than eight points.

“It hasn’t been easy,” said Johnson. “We could be 8-0 right now or we could be 0-8 right now. Those guys have found ways to win.

“They’ve been down a couple times and we didn’t panic. They just played hard and never gave up. That’s a good sign of a team that’s growing up fast.”

The Spartans would still have a shot at an at-large state tournament berth, even with a loss tonight. Lake Forest still has to play rival Milford next Friday in the Battle of the Bell.

Johnson said he’s tried not to put too much pressure on his players going into the matchup with IR.

“They know what’s at stake,” he said. “You don’t want to make a big deal about it because they can get overanxious. Our goal has just been to improve every day so that on Friday night we’re playing good football.”

Extra points

Delaware 105.9-FM is slated to broadcast the Cape Henlopen-Smyrna game tonight. … Smyrna is averaging 37.1 points in the first half alone this season. The Eagles have scored at least 22 points and as many as 56 points in the opening two quarters. … Tonight’s Salesianum-Sussex Tech contest is a rematch from the first round last year’s Division I state tournament, which the Ravens won 33-27. The Sals are 15-1 against Henlopen Conference teams since 2009. … Caesar Rodney will be trying to snap a seven-game Henlopen North losing streak when it plays at Polytech tonight.

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