Smyrna seniors toast hard work that led to state crown

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Smyrna co-captain Brandon Bishop is handed the Division 1 championship trophy (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

NEWARK — Brandon Bishop’s entire football career has been with this group of Smyrna High seniors.

They’ve been on the same team from Pop Warner, to middle school football and even in random games played for fun in backyards, basketball gyms or the streets.

And now they’re state champions together.

“It’s like the same team you play a pickup game in the backyard with and you go win a state championship with them,” Bishop said. “It’s your best friends. It’s the best thing you can ever imagine.”

In the parking lot after their wild 32-26 overtime victory over Salesianum for the Division I football title, the Smyrna seniors started to reminisce about all the steps they took along the way.

It included talk about what they went through two years ago, going 2-8. Then 5-5 in Mike Judy’s first season as coach.

“I was here for 2-8 and 5-5,” said senior wide receiver Donte Ritchie. “It’s too hard to put in words. I’m too excited to speak. This will be remembered. No one thought we could do this. This is a special senior class. In my mind, it’s the best class to ever come through Smyrna.”

Offensive lineman Phil Nix pointed out what they did together as eighth graders. They finished their season undefeated.

“It’s crazy because this all started back in eighth grade,” Nix said. “It’s just crazy that we came here. But we knew we could do it since the beginning of the season. Our favorite moment is right now.”

Fittingly, it seemed like every senior played some part in the victory.

Charlie Taylor, who had five touchdowns all year entering Saturday, scored three times. He caught an 86-yard pass from junior quarterback Nolan Henderson to pull the Eagles within a touchdown.

Then after Salesianum scored to go up 26-12, Taylor returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards to the end zone. It was the first kickoff returned for a touchdown by Smyrna this season.

“I was just trying to do whatever I could to help my team,” Taylor said. “I did whatever it took. I can’t put this into words. We worked so hard, put in all the necessary work, and now all that hard work paid off.”

The list of seniors who contributed is a long one.

Jamal Powell had an interception of the goal-line to prevent a Sallies touchdown right before halftime. Jared Gillis, a scholarship baseball player who joined the team before the start of this season as the fifth wide receiver, caught a 68 yard pass to set up a touchdown in the third quarter.

Bishop caught a 19-yard pass in overtime to bring Smyrna to the 1-yard line before Will Knight scored the winning touchdown. Donte Ritchie made a fingertip catch when Henderson was scrambling for a conversion on third down late in the fourth quarter.

Rodney Ruff had a sack, multiple tackles for loss and pass breakups from his defensive back position.

“Everybody doubted us in the beginning of the year,” Ruff said. “We left it all on the field and this is the outcome. This is what happens when you put the work in during the summer.”
Winning a state title is something this group has always talked about.

“Since day one we set this goal,” offensive lineman Terren Carter said. “We knew what we could do.”

“It’s a group of guys that are willing to do anything to win a game,” said his brother Jerren Carter. “We wanted to get this championship for the town and the community.”

And Judy will never forget them.

“I’m just so glad and honored I’m able to coach these kids,” Judy said. “Every coach in America will tell you, if you work hard, good things come to you. This is the epitome of that.

I’m glad that I can be a part of a memory that they’re going to have for the rest of their lives.”

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