Smyrna, Middletown open year in rematch of 2016 title game

MIDDLETOWN — There’s been some big changes since the last time these two teams met.

Middletown High has a new head football coach and Smyrna has a new quarterback.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed since last December’s DIAA Division I state finals is that the Eagles and Cavaliers still really, really want to beat each other.

In a season opener that’s about as big as they come, Middletown hosts two-time defending Division I state champion Smyrna today at 7:30 p.m. in front of what should be an overflow crowd.

It’s the first time the two old Harvest Bowl rivals have faced each other in the regular season since 2012.

Of course, most people will be thinking more about last year’s Division I state championship game when the Eagles pulled away to a 36-14 victory at Delaware Stadium. It’s fair to say that a lot of fans have been talking about the rematch since that day.

Smyrna star RB Will Knight rushes against Middletown during last year’s title game. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It’s been nonstop,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “There’s a lot of ties between the two communities. Smyrna people are living in Middletown, Middletown people are living in Smyrna.
“This is a good matchup between two tough programs and the communities have a lot of history with each other. It’s been the talk of the town for a long time.”

Nine-year assistant Zach Blum will be making his debut as the Cavs’ head coach. He’s taking over for Mark DelPercio, who’s now coaching in Texas.

Smyrna head coach Mike Judy

A 1998 Middletown grad, Blum has fond memories of watching the Harvest Bowl as a youngster.

“I don’t know what there wasn’t to like,” he said about the games. “It was the first time you got to go to the stadium, the monkey balls would be falling off the trees and the popcorn would be going in the concession stand. There’s all those good memories of being a kid.

“It’s a great way to start,” Blum said about making his debut. “It’s something we’re looking forward to very much.”

Smyrna was in a similar situation last season. After beating Salesianum in the 2015 Division I state finals, the Eagles got a rematch with the Sals in the third game of the schedule.

Middletown quarterback Drew Fry.
(Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

But Smyrna handled the challenge just fine, rolling to a 60-26 win over the Sals. The Eagles opened up a gaping 52-13 lead by halftime.

Even though Smyrna is riding a 22-game winning streak, Judy said his players haven’t lost the feeling that they still have something to prove.

“There’s no doubt that the team we’re facing is going to have a major chip on their shoulder,” said Judy. “But I am 100-percent certain that there is not a program in the state with a bigger chip on their shoulder at all times than ours.

“It’s got everything to do with the kids and the pride they have. They want nothing more than to be number two in the rankings and have somebody doubt them again. It gives them more fuel to the fire. We definitely respect that Middletown will be playing with a lot of emotion and that’s going to be what makes this game great.”

A year ago, the Eagles averaged a gaudy 52.7 points per game. Middletown averaged a still-impressive 40.0 points.

Both teams have marquee running backs who have verbally committed to Delaware: Smyrna’s Will Knight and the Cavs’ Kedrick Whitehead.

Middletown has a returning second-team All-State quarterback in junior Drew Fry. The Eagles have to replace QB Nolan Henderson, the 2016 state Offensive Player of the Year, but picked up senior transfer Isaiah Wilson, who led Glasgow to a 10-1 record last fall.

Of course, with the two teams already knowing each other pretty well, it might be some of the few unknowns that determine the winner.

“It’s definitely a different team and a different situation,” said Blum. “As far as the X’s and O’s go, there’s some things that we hang our hats on and those guys hang their hats on that aren’t going to change.

“‘2016’ isn’t something that has been a rallying cry for us. It’s what happened and now we’re going to see what happens now.”

“There’s always the possibility that both programs could walk out there and it’s literary a replay of the championship game — where everything looks the same,” said Judy. “But listen, the staff up in Middletown and our staff, we’re not that naive. Both staffs are 100 percent sorting things out, trying to get in each other’s minds and figure out what this thing is going to look like on the other end.

“The intensity and the emotion is going to be a replay of it (the state finals), no doubt. But I have no doubt that Middletown’s going to show us something different and that’s something we’ll have to adjust to.”

Extra points

Dover opens the season today by hosting Archmere at 6 p.m. in one of the eighth annual DFRC Kickoff Claassic games. Past and current DFRC Blue-Gold participants from each both schools will be recognized while a limited amount of DFRC Blue-Gold merchandise will also be available. … DelPercio is now an assistant coach and teacher at Ridge Point High near Houston, Tex. He reportedly made it through Hurricane Harvey just fine after temporarily leaving the area. … Running back Leddie Brown, who was one of Smyrna’s stars in the state finals, transferred twice in the offseason, ending up at Neumann Goretti in Pennsylvania. After verbally committing to West Virginia, he’s also considering going to Florida instead.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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