Smyrna, Woodbridge face tough tests

 

SMYRNA — Ever since they scrimmaged in preseason, people have talked about the possibility of a Smyrna-Middletown state championship game.

Now there’s only two things standing in the way of that dream Harvest Bowl matchup — William Penn and Salesianum.

Top-seeded Middletown (10-0) hosts No. 4 Sallies (8-3) today at 7:30 p.m. before No. 2 Smyrna (10-0) hosts third-seeded William Penn (10-1) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the DIAA Division I semifinals.

Smyrna’s players, of course, say the only thing they’re thinking about is trying to beat the Colonials.

“It’s definitely important to focus on one game at a time and just worry about surviving this week and advancing,” said Nolan Henderson, the Eagles’ senior quarterback. “I know the guys inside this team know that. It doesn’t really matter what anybody else says.”

“We just focus on us,” said junior running back Will Knight. “We turn the social media off — everything off — and we’re just tuned in.”

A year ago in the semifinals, William Penn gave Smyrna one of its toughest challenges of the season when it scored the first 13 points of the contest.

The Eagles rallied for 30 unanswered points — 24 of which came after Henderson left the game with a neck injury — to pull out the 30-13 victory.

This year, the Colonials’ only loss was a 25-0 setback to Middletown in the second week of the season. Since then, they’ve won nine games in a row.

William Penn and Smyrna have three common opponents, with both squads beating Salesianum, Delcastle and Sussex Central.

None of the Eagles had played in a state tournament game before last season. Now, with three tourney wins under their belts, Smyrna hopes they’ve learned a few things.

“Last year it was a brave new world for us, trying to figure it out as we went along,” said coach Mike Judy.

This year, Smyrna had to learn how to deal with a first-round bye. The Eagles haven’t played a game since Nov. 11 when they posted a 56-7 win over Polytech.

“I think any coach that knows young people knows it’s hard to keep focused,” said Judy. “These guys did a great job. They were focused, they practiced hard. It kind of goes back to our philosophy of focusing on us. We spent all week just moving forward and trying to make ourselves a better version of us.”

Nobody has figured how to beat Smyrna in a long time. The defending Division I state champion Eagles have now won 20 games in a row since falling to Salesianum, 76-56, last September.

But the way they’ve gotten this far is by not looking at what might be around the next corner.

“There’s no possible way you could look by these guys,” Judy said about the Colonials. “I mean they’re a great team.

“These kids are really good about not letting that sort of stuff bother them,” he said about looking ahead. “They just focus on the details of what we’re trying to do.”

Woodbridge faces Caravel

Woodbridge has a chance to make school history tonight in the Division II semifinals.

The top-seeded Blue Raiders (11-0) will try to earn their first trip to the state finals when they host seventh-seeded Caravel (8-3) today at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, third-seeded St. Georges (9-2) hosts No. 5 Wilmington Friends (10-1) at 11 a.m. in the other semifinal.

Woodbridge has rolled through its unbeaten season, posting five shutouts while allowing just 53 points in 11 games. The Raiders have also won their last nine home games.

Offensively, good things usually happen when they keep the ball in the hands of quarterback Troy Haynes. The sophomore ran for three touchdowns and threw for another in last week’s 48-12 win over Howard.

“He’s mature beyond his years,” said Woodbridge coach Ed Manlove. “He listens and he works hard. We don’t try to overload him with things. But we try to let him do what he does best — make plays. When he’s comfortable out there, it makes things easier.”

But, despite being seeded only seventh, Caravel figures to be a tough matchup for the Raiders.

The Buccaneers have won seven games in a row, including a 21-16 upset of previously-unbeaten Glasgow in the tournament quarterfinals. And two of Caravel’s loss came against Division I state tournament teams Concord and Salesianum.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.