Smyrna QB has put scary hit behind him

Smyrna quarterback Aidan Sanchez has completed 149-of-221 passes. He’s throwing for 251.6 yards a game with 19 TDs. Delaware State News file photos

SMYRNA — Just a few minutes earlier, Aidan Sanchez was laying flat on his back in the middle of a football field.

But, as he was being transported by an ambulance to the hospital, there was only one thing the Smyrna High quarterback wanted to know.

“I kept asking for game updates,” said Sanchez. “The biggest thing I wanted to know was what was the score, who was winning, who had the ball.”

About halfway to the hospital, Sanchez was told that the Eagles had beaten Salesianum, 18-10.

“I actually started crying,” Sanchez admitted. “I was just so happy that my team won this game. I knew it was huge for us. … It felt great.”

That was the last time Sanchez and Smyrna faced Sallies, on Sept. 27. Tonight, when the Eagles and Sals square off again in the first round of the DIAA Division I football state tournament, Sanchez is hoping to still be on his feet and in the stadium when the game ends.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Smyrna in the quarterfinal contest between the No. 3 Eagles (8-2) and No. 6 Sallies (6-4). No. 4 Sussex Central (8-2) hosts No. 5 Concord (6-4) at 7 p.m. in the other Division I opening-round game.

The first meeting is remembered not only for Smyrna’s victory but for the scary hit that Sanchez took with 3:10 remaining. He had just thrown an interception at the goal line and tackled the defender, James Johnson, as he returned the ball upfield at full speed.

Sanchez lay motionless before being attended to and eventually taken from the field on a stretcher as he gave the crowd a thumbs up.
Sanchez said he’s watched a few different video clips of the hit.

“I hated watching it and I hated the feeling after it,” he said. “But it just gives me more confidence and more energy to come into this game.

“I definitely didn’t try to avoid them,” he said about the videos. “I wanted to see everything. I wanted to see the plays and the overall outcome. Even though that was the outcome, that’s just what happened. It definitely felt a type of way inside but that doesn’t stop me from doing what I’ve got to do.

“It was definitely scary to see myself there and feel what I was feeling,” Sanchez added. “I’m glad I was able to bounce back.”

Sanchez went through concussion protocol and missed one game before being cleared to return.

In his second year as a starter, the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder has become the leader of Smyrna’s wide-open spread offense that the Eagles thought he could be.

In his last six games, Sanchez has thrown 16 touchdown passes as Smyrna has put together an eight-game winning streak. In the win over Sallies, he completed 28-of-46 passes for 383 yards and a pair of TDs.

For the season, he’s completed 149-of-221 passes. He’s throwing for 251.6 yards a game with 19 TD passes overall.

“At the end of the day, in our type of offense that’s going to throw the ball, the man who’s standing back there taking the snap needs to be able to command, get us in the right things, make the right decision,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy.

“There’s a lot more to being a quarterback than being able to spin (throw) the ball and have a good arm. Honestly, those things are secondary when it comes to running the offense at the high school level. You’ve got to be pretty strong up top, mentally, too.”

Last season wasn’t a good one for the Eagles for a number of different of reasons. After winning three straight Division I state titles — and graduating some of its top players — Smyrna finished just 3-6.

As a first-year starting QB in a program that usually scores a lot of points, Sanchez couldn’t help but feel responsibility for some of the Eagles’ struggles.

“He weathered the storm,” said Judy. “And he fought like crazy to get better.

“The more you get to know the kid, the more you understand that he’s got a lot of intrinsic abilities. Where he got flustered last year, he doesn’t get flustered any more. You could always sense that he had those qualities, he just hadn’t gotten there yet. The more touches, the more exposure he gets, the better.”

Sanchez said just thinking about last year’s struggles help motivate him.

“Every time I hear those two numbers, just in one sentence, I hate it — three and six,” he said. “I hate it. I hear it and I just think to myself, that’s definitely on me. I’m like, I’ve got to do better as a quarterback and a player to not let that happen ever again.”

So, in the off-season, Sanchez watched more film, lifted more weights and got more repetitions. He said he believes there’s a big difference in how he’s playing on the field.

“It feels so much more comfortable,” he said. “I feel in the flow and I feel like it’s going to take a lot to get me out of my rhythm.”

As for getting hit again, Sanchez knows contact comes with being a football player. Maybe next time he’s in a tough situation, though, he’ll try to protect himself a little better.

“I’ve had a good amount of people tell me this past week, ‘Slide feet first, not head first,’” Sanchez said with a laugh. “It’s got to be something I have to take into consideration, though. I’ve got to protect my body.”

Extra points

Smyrna is 4-2 against Sallies since the programs first met in 2015. … Sussex Central hasn’t played Concord since the first round of the state tournament in 2010. The Raiders won, 35-26, on their home field. … Woodbridge is 6-1 in the state tourney over the last three seasons. … Smyrna is 7-0 in the tournament since 2015.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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