State finals on tap today: Blue Raiders seek D-II repeat in Bell’s first year as coach

Tyrez Cannon of Woodbridge signals a TD after he scored in the first quarter in last week’s Division II semifinal against Caravel. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

NEW CASTLE — Jed Bell has been in this position a few times.

As a longtime assistant under former Woodbridge High coach Ed Manlove, Bell was a member of the program’s 2016 and 2018 football state championship teams.

But when Woodbridge takes the field in tonight’s DIAA Division II state championship game at the University of Delaware, Bell will be seeking his first title as the head coach.

Kickoff for the top-seeded Blue Raiders’ showdown with fourth-seeded Howard High is slated for 6 p.m.

“We’ve been here but being a first time head coach, overseeing everything, it’s exciting for sure,” Bell said at Monday’s DIAA championship press conferences. “But it’s a testament to the kids and how hard they’ve worked. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

The Blue Raiders (11-1) defeated eighth-seeded Wilmington Friends School 24-13 in the quarterfinals and pulled away with a thrilling 21-20 comeback win over sixth-seeded Caravel Academy in last week’s semifinals.

Howard is seeking its first D-II title since defeating St. Georges Tech High, 28-13, in the 2015 finals.

Woodbridge faced Howard in the quarterfinals in each of their previous two title runs, shutting the Wildcats out 28-0 last year and rolling to a 48-12 victory in 2016.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” said Woodbridge senior lineman V.J. Singh. “We’ve taken it day by day, but we’ve been preparing all year to make sure we can be here.”

In the Division I title game, preceding the D-II game with a 1 p.m. kickoff also at UD, Middletown High will be seeking its first title since 2012.

The second-seeded Cavaliers (10-1) will face top-seeded Hodgson Vo-Tech High.

The Unified flag football state title game, between the two top seeds McKean High and Dover High, will kickoff between the other two title games at approximately 4 p.m.

Tickets for all three games can be purchased on the DIAA website or at the gate prior to kickoff today (barring a sellout).

After losing a large crop of talented seniors from last year’s championship squad, Woodbridge simply reloaded and had the ‘next man up’ mentality as this season rolled around.

The Blue Raiders won their first nine games, pitching four shutouts and extending the program’s overall win streak to 19. The lone loss was a 21-14 double overtime Week 10 defeat to division foe Delmar High.

“Anytime you graduate 19 kids and eight All-Staters, you know there are some big shoes to fill,” said Bell. “The guys have done a really good job of working hard and just buying into the program that we got going. The guys who were expected to step up have stepped up which is very evident by their performance on a weekly basis.”

“My class was overshadowed by the 2018 team,” said Singh. “So when they left we knew it was next man up. We know Woodbridge will be great for years to come. Our Pop Warner just won a championship, our middle school team was undefeated, we all grew up in football.”

In 12 games this season, Woodbridge’s rushing attack has combined for 3,373 yards and 36 touchdowns on 442 carries.

Leading rusher Tyrez Cannon, a junior, has accumulated 1,321 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, followed by senior Jayquon Massey’s 1,139 yards and 11 touchdowns. Twelve players have run the ball at least one time for the Blue Raiders.

Senior transfer quarterback Dalton Perdue has tossed for 618 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions on 34 completions. He’s tallied another 159 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Though he’s played just five games, senior Ricky Kane is the team’s leading receiver with 15 receptions for 248 yards and two touchdowns. La’Tyron Stones has reeled in seven balls for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Blue Raiders have dedicated the season to late teammate and two-time state champion quarterback Troy Haynes. After graduating in the spring, he passed away Sept. 29 following a battle with cancer.

“We’re going to pack it out at UD,” said Singh. “Everybody and their grandma will be there from Woodbridge. It’s definitely going to be a very energetic crowd for sure.”

This is Hodgson’s first title game appearance as a D-I school. Coach Frank Moffett has led the Silver Eagles to three D-II titles in 2007, ’13 and ’14. They’ve also made championship appearances under Moffett’s leadership in 2009 and ’12.

The Silver Eagles (11-0) went undefeated in the regular season for the second consecutive season before shutting down fourth-seeded Sussex Central High 41-7 in last Saturday’s semifinals.

After last Friday’s 48-28 semifinal win over third-seeded Smyrna High, the Cavaliers earned their eighth trip to the finals in the last 10 seasons. They’ve only captured two titles, in 2011 and ’12, out of those trips.

It’s the second championship appearance for Middletown coach Zach Blum.

“We’re very excited just for the opportunity to be together one more time and to go out and compete,” said Blum. “We talked about this time of year, you put all your chips in the middle of the table and you see just where you stand — as long you’re willing to put your chips in and gamble on yourself, things will turn out.”

McKean, in just the fourth year of the Unified football title game, is making their second championship appearance.

Dover is in their program’s third year. They’ve made two previous semifinal trips but are making their first appearance in the Unified title game following a 36-12 win over Smyrna in the semis.

Both programs will be vying for their first Unified championship.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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