Smyrna’s dual running backs pack a punch

 

Smyrna’s William Knight rushes against Middletown's Jalen Whitehead in the fourth quarter during the Division l State Finals at University of Delaware Stadium on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Smyrna’s William Knight rushes against Middletown’s Jalen Whitehead in the fourth quarter during the Division l State Finals at University of Delaware Stadium on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

NEWARK — Leddie Brown stood on the sideline, looked at the sea of red in the away stands and soaked it all in.

This is why he wanted to come to Smyrna High. But he never expected this much.

“I never thought it would be this big,” Brown said, gesturing to the crowd. “This whole experience has been amazing for me. I came from a small school, we didn’t have all this.”

As the Eagles celebrated their second consecutive DIAA Division I football state title Saturday with a 36-14 win over Middletown, Brown was enjoying his first time as a champion.

The junior running back transferred to Smyrna this offseason after his previous school, Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md. closed.

The fact that Brown decided on Smyrna raised some eyebrows. The Eagles already had a standout running back — junior Will Knight, the state’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year.

But Smyrna made the dual-running back system work. On Saturday Knight scored four touchdowns before Brown sealed it on a 16-yard score with 4:40 left.

“You don’t know you’re going to get another running back until the kid shows up, in the district,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “Leddie is a talented young man and I was most impressed about his ability to adapt and find his groove in what we’re doing.”

“It’s very easy for a young man who is very talented to disrupt things,” Judy added. “He did not do that one bit. I credit that to the other kids like Will and our seniors for welcoming him into this family.”

Knight carried the ball 34 times for 233 rushing yards. Brown was right behind him with 25 carries for 198 yards.

“Those are Division I football players,” said Middletown coach Mark DelPercio. “They’re scholarship players for a reason. They’ve got some good players over there.”

So why were Brown and Knight able to work together in the same backfield?

Brown credits Smyrna offensive coordinator Mike Marks. Marks previously coached with Brown when he was younger.

“Coach Marks is a genius,” Brown said.

As a team, the Eagles recorded 471 rushing yards on Saturday.

Smyrna usually isn’t afraid to air it out, especially considering the Eagles have an All-State quarterback in Nolan Henderson. But Judy said the circumstances on Saturday dictated some of their decisions.

It was a little windy and Middletown often played just five defenders in the box. Judy also had a lot of confidence in his offensive line.

“I think the offensive line vs. defensive line matchup was in our favor,” Judy said. “That was the gameplan.”

Typically when Smyrna has both Knight and Brown on the field at the same time, one is in the backfield and the other is in the slot.

Against Middletown, the Eagles turned to their earthquake formation often. It is tightly packed and has Knight receive a direct snap. He can run the ball himself or hand off to Brown.

“They don’t know who is getting the ball,” Knight said. “It keeps the defense working. I’m thankful for Leddie. We get along very well.”

And what impressed Judy the most is that Knight and Brown never argue over carries.

“I came in and we were clicking right away,” Brown said. “There’s enough ball to go around.”

Knight has a knack for title-game heroics.

He scored the tying and go-ahead touchdowns in last year’s overtime victory over Salesianum.

Knight was a freshman two years ago when Judy took over a Smyrna program that had gone 2-8 in 2013. He’s witnessed firsthand the turnaround from going 5-5 in 2014, to a 9-1 regular-season which resulted in a state title a year ago and now an undefeated championship season this year.

Knight wanted to make sure last season’s championship wasn’t the only one.

“We poured our heart into getting to where we are right now,” Knight said. “This shows were not a fluke or a one and down team. We’re here to stay.”

 

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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