Smyrna rallies to stay unbeaten: Late TD lifts Eagles by Central 22-14

GEORGETOWN — For a brief moment, Stephen Whaley put his head down.

But he immediately yanked it back up and jogged back to the line of scrimmage.

Here Smyrna High was in an unfamiliar position — stuck on offense. The sophomore wide receiver had just let a potential go-ahead touchdown catch slip through his hands but was hopeful for another shot.

On fourth down with 25 seconds left, Whaley was in the end zone again, this time with the ball settled between his arms and Smyrna was still unbeaten.

Whaley caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Nolan Henderson to cap off 22 unanswered points by the Eagles in the final eight minutes to stun Sussex Central High 22-14 on Saturday afternoon in a Henlopen Conference Northern Division football contest.

Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

 

“If you make a mistake, you just get back up,” Whaley said. “We just kept fighting.”

Smyrna’s offense, which averaged 58.3 points per game entering Saturday, was held in check by Sussex Central’s defense and a strong swirling wind.

The Eagles (7-0, 3-0 Henlopen North) were scoreless for the first three quarters until rushing touchdowns by Will Knight and Henderson tied the game at 14-14.

Smyrna’s defense forced a punt, allowing the Eagles to take over with 1:29 left at Central’s 45. They were soon put in a fourth-and-15 situation after a false start and three incompletions, one of which was Whaley’s drop in the end zone.

Henderson’s first read on the game-winning play is to Knight coming across the middle. But he was covered by the safety so Henderson looked to his left and spotted Whaley wide open in the front corner of the end zone.

“My next read is to Stephen and there was just no one there,” Henderson said. “I just threw it up. It felt like it took forever to land. But it felt good.”

This is Whaley’s first season playing wide receiver. He spent last year as a backup running back to Knight, who won the state’s Offensive Player of the Year award, and the Eagles earned the Division I state championship.

In an effort to get Whaley on the field more, Smyrna coach Mike Judy decided to make him a wide receiver for his sophomore year.

“Stephen Whaley is one of the hardest working kids you can ever wish to have as a football coach,” Judy said. “He works his tail off every single day. He really dedicated himself to growing into that receiver role. He struggled a little bit catching the ball today but he made the most important one.”

While the Smyrna offense couldn’t find its rhythm until late, the Smyrna defense made sure to keep the Eagles in the game.

The unit’s biggest stop came when Smyrna tied things at 14-14 and the Eagles forced a three-and-out. Junior defensive lineman Anthony DelRe broke through the line for a stop a yard behind the line of scrimmage on first down before junior linebacker Diron Accoo contained a sweep attempt for a loss of six.

“We were pretty confident because we believe if we give our offense the ball they’re going to score,” DelRe said.

Jake Soroko sealed it for Smyrna was an interception on Sussex Central’s final drive.

Prior to Saturday Smyrna’s lowest scoring output was last week when it scored 54 points against Sussex Tech. There were plenty of reasons for why the Eagles slumped against the Golden Knights.

There was the wind which prevented the Eagles from throwing the ball downfield, especially in the first half. There was also the fact that Smyrna was missing two starters due to injuries, running back Leddie Brown and wide receiver Marcus Vass.

That was coupled with a Sussex Central defensive line that seemed to always been in the Smyrna backfield and the fact that the Golden Knights dominated the time of possession battle in the first half.

“It was a perfect storm of all those things,” Judy said. “A few critical injuries with some young guys stepping in, those young guys are talented but just young. Add a great defense with Sussex Central and then you throw that wind in your face and it’ll make for an interesting offensive game.”

“We called it, we were trying to tell them before the game that this will be one of the better teams we face,” Judy added. “Coach (John) Wells had those guys ready to play and had a great scheme against us. I think we needed a physical battle against someone instead of just flicking the ball around and being able to score at will.”

Brady Bowden and Drew Morris each had a rushing touchdown for Sussex Central (4-3 overall, 2-2 Henlopen North). Morris looked to have scored the decisive touchdown on a 71-yard dash with 11:08 left.

But Sussex Central did not enter Smyrna territory for the rest of the game.

“It definitely showed a lot of heart,” Henderson said. “I’m really proud of my guys for battling. We haven’t really had to fight for all four quarters. Sussex Central played a great game but we showed a lot of heart and I’m proud of my team.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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