Smyrna pounds Sallies 52-32 in Division I football tourney quarterfinals

Delaware State News/Marc Clery Smyrna’s Yamir Knight goes out of bounds after Salesianum’s Rasheen Caulk tries to shoulder tackle him in the second quarter Friday night at Smyrna. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — Smyrna High and Salesianum are no strangers to high-scoring football games.

Everybody remembers the 132-point slugfest the two squads played in 2015.

But Friday’s game might be a close second.

Luckily for the third-seeded Eagles, they scored the first 30 points of the night and then finally prevailed, 52-32, over No. 6 Salesianum in the DIAA Division I state quarterfinals on Friday night.

By improving to 8-0 in the tourney since 2015, Smyrna will face No. 2 Middletown (9-1) in the state semifinals next weekend, probably on Friday at 7 p.m. The Eagles opened the season with a 17-6 loss to the Cavaliers.

Junior quarterback Aidan Sanchez completed 28-of-39 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns while running for another to spark Smyrna. Sophomore Wayne Knight added 118 yards on 10 carries.

“I give Sallies all the love in the world,” said Smyrna senior linebacker Debo Williams. “They didn’t give up, man. They tried to come back. They scored 20 unanswered points.

Smyrna’s Makhi Jackson rushes as Salesianum’s Rasheen Caulk tries tackle him in the first quarter.

“That’s where all the work we put in came in. We didn’t let that stop us.”

After Smyrna stormed out to an apparently-commanding 30-0 lead, Sallies stormed back by doing something it usually doesn’t do — throw the ball.

The Sals cut the Eagles’ lead to 30-14 at halftime and then to 30-20 when they scored the first TD of the second half.

But the momentum swung back to Smyrna on a rather unusual situation.

On a fourth-and-goal at the Eagles’ nine, Sallies twice lined up and kicked short field goals to pull within seven. Both times, though, the plays were blown dead because Smyrna jumped offsides.

The Sals finally decided to go for it from the two. After faking a handoff, Mooney tried to roll out to his right.

But Williams shot through and dropped Mooney at the six.

The Eagles then turned around and drove 94 yards on 12 plays to retake control. Freshman Yamir Knight swept in from the four-yard line to put Smyrna back in control at 38-20 with 8:28 remaining.

“I didn’t think they were going to run up the middle because we were stopping it pretty good during the game,” said Williams. “I felt a boot (bootleg) coming. I went with my instincts and ended up making the tackle.”

That doesn’t mean the two squads were done scoring, however.

Smyrna’s Wayne Knight gets tackled after a long reception in the first quarter.

After Sallies scored on a 57-yard TD pass, Wayne Knight answered with a 74-yard scoring run. Knight got to the sidelines and simply out-sprinted the Sals’ defense for the touchdown.

When Knight then added the two-point conversion, Smyrna owned a 46-26 lead with 7:46 on the clock.

The Eagles were dealing with the sudden death of a student and friend. They only found out Friday morning.

“It made us very emotional during the day,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “We were asked what we wanted to do for the game and we said, ‘We’ve got to play. We’ve got to play.’

“I could see the emotions take over in the second half. The kids were hurting all day. … These guys major at fighting adversity.”

Smyrna is 5-2 against Sallies since the two programs first met in 2015. That includes the Eagles’ 18-10 win over the Sals on Sept. 27.

Smyrna got off to a fast start, driving for touchdowns on two of its first three possessions to take a 16-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.

Sanchez threw a pair of touchdown passes — an eight-yarder to Wayne Knight and a 14-yarder to sophomore receiver Devin DeMoe. Wayne Knight added two-point conversion runs after both TDs.

Both drives also featured long completions from Sanchez on seam routes down the middle of the field. The first one went to Wayne Knight for 42 yards while the second one when to Knight’s little brother, Yamir, for 47 yards.

Sallies’ safety Rasheen Caulk did return an interception 47 yards for an apparent touchdown in the first quarter. But the play was wiped out by an illegal block on the return and the Sals ended up missing a 35-yard field goal attempt.

Smyrna’s Makhi Jackson rushes as Salesianum’s Rasheen Caulk tries tackle him in the first quarter at Smyrna.

In the second quarter, Sanchez threw his third scoring pass, this one a 19-yard throw to Makai Jackson, who out-dueled a Sallies defensive back in the back of the end zone. Wayne Knight’s third two-point conversion run pushed the Eagles’ advantage to 24-0 with 9:02 left before halftime.

Sanchez made it 30-0 when he dropped back to pass but then took off up the middle, cut to the outside and drove in for a 25-yard TD run. In the first half alone, Sanchez completed 19-of-28 passes for 261 yards with the three TDs.

Sallies did get on the scoreboard before the end of the half when Andrew Watkins broke up the middle for a 26-yard scoring run.

The Sals then got even closer when they hit on a 69-yard pass play to put them at the Eagles’ two. Three plays later, QB Dylan Mooney rolled out and hit James Johnson for a five-yard touchdown pass that got Sallies within 30-14 at halftime.

Sallies reached the Division I state finals a year ago, losing to Sussex Central in the state championship game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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