Smyrna seeks 3rd straight Division I football state title vs. rival Middletown

The Smyrna football team pose during a pep rally at the high school on Friday. They play in the Division 1 football Championship against Middletown in Newark on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

NEWARK — Middletown High has been waiting a year to get another shot at a state title.

Smyrna, on the other hand, has been waiting three months to get another shot at the Cavaliers.

One of the two squads will finally walk away satisfied today when No. 1 Middletown (11-0) squares off with No. 2 Smyrna (9-2) today in the DIAA Division I football state championship game.

Smyrna head football coach Mike Judy speaks during a pep rally for his team that plays in the Division 1 football Championship in Newark on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Delaware Stadium, with another good crowd expected for the showdown between the two Harvest Bowl rivals.

The Eagles are trying to become just the fourth Delaware football program to win three straight state crowns. But it was Middletown that snapped Smyrna’s 22-game winning streak with a 35-28 victory in the season opener on Sept. 8.

“It was exactly what we needed,” Smyrna coach Mike Judy said about the loss. “It brought us back. It ended the talk about a streak. You get that out of the way.

“It allowed us to start with a clean slate. It forced us to go back to fundamentals, which is something we always do. But it really hammered home the point of why fundamentals are important. That first game, fundamentals broke down. The team that was better fundamentally won that game.”

Smyrna students get loud and rowdy during a pep rally for the football team that plays in the Division 1 football Championship in Newark on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Middletown’s motivation comes from the fact that it lost to the Eagles, 36-14, in last year’s state title game. More than that, the Cavs are well aware that they’re just 2-4 in state championship games over the last seven seasons.

Middletown is going after its eighth overall football state crown today with three previous titles coming in Division I and four in Division II.

Smyrna band member Hannah Jeffremow dances during a pep rally for the football team that plays in the Division 1 football Championship in Newark on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“What we’ve talked about from the beginning of the season is the way that we feel like we need to finish this season,” said Zach Blum, the former Cavalier assistant who’s in his first season as head coach.

“We’ve been here six of the last seven times but we only won two of those. That’s not the way we want to finish.”

Of course, nobody is surprised that Smyrna and Middletown are meeting again to determine the state title. Both have dominated most of their in-state competition this fall.

The Cavs have outscored their opponents by an average of 28 points per game, while posting three shutouts. The Eagles are outscoring their foes by an average of 23 points.

Smyrna scores more points than Middletown (42.0-36.2) but the Cavs give up fewer (8.3-19.0). The 28 points that Smyrna scored in the first meeting are the most Middletown has allowed this year.

The Cavs know they have to stop Eagles’ standout running back Will Knight, who just broke the state’s all-time career rushing record. In the opener, the senior scored all four Smyrna touchdowns on runs of 60, 68, 35 and 70 yards.

Knight finished with 296 yards on 23 carries.

The Smyrna football cheerleaders during a pep rally at the high school on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“He might still be running on a couple of them,” Blum joked this week. “Every team’s biggest concern is Will Knight. He’s a fantastic football player.”

At the same time, quarterback Isaiah Wilson — who was playing his first game with Smyrna in the first meeting — threw for only 35 yards in the opener. The senior is more comfortable with the Eagles’ offense now, throwing for 191 yards and a pair of TDs in Smyrna’s 48-8 semifinal win over Hodgson.

The Eagles’ defensive dilemma is trying to contain Middletown’s quarterback Drew Fry. The junior completed 16-for-23 passes for three touchdowns and 201 yards in the opener.

Overall, Smyrna didn’t do a very good job of tackling in the first meeting. All of the Cavs’ five TDs covered at least 21 yards, including a 61-yard run from senior Kedrick Whitehead and a 54-yard reception by junior receiver Nicholas Johnston.

Both teams would like to think they’ve improved since the last time they met.

The squad that’s improved the most will get to leave Delaware Stadium with a state championship trophy this afternoon.

“A lot of it is execution and making sure that fundamentally you’re sound,” said Blum. “The other thing is the momentum and the emotion of it — making sure you manage those emotional highs and lows. If things go well, we can’t get too high and get out of what we need to do. And if things go poorly for a snap or two, we need to regroup and rally together and manage that in the same way.”

“Every team, it doesn’t matter how many starters are back, is different,” said Judy. “I know it is a juicy game to be a rematch of last year’s championship game between the two towns and the history they have. It’s a great thing for the two communities.

“But these are two separate teams (from last year). This is the second time seeing this team, it isn’t the third time. … This is going to be the game to see who’s grown the most.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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