Sussex Central tops Smyrna 31-12, Eagles’ first conference loss since 2014

Smyrna quarterback Aidan Sanchez is brought down by Sussex Central’s Tyrell Witke during Friday night’s Henlopen North game in Georgetown. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

GEORGETOWN — Isaac Barnes says he’s usually nervous before a big game.

Not Friday night, though. Something was different for the Sussex Central High senior quarterback.

Maybe it was the homefield advantage. Maybe it was the four-game winning streak the Golden Knights carried into the contest. Or maybe it was the fact it’s Barnes’ senior year and last change to win a championship, so he had nothing to lose.

Whatever it was, it worked.

“I was calm all day,” Barnes said. “Everything felt different, I’m usually so nervous before a game but tonight I felt comfortable. I got on the field, saw the receivers, threw the ball and they did the rest.”

Barnes threw for a pair of touchdowns and the Sussex Central defense did the rest as the Golden Knights knocked off Smyrna High 31-12 in a Henlopen Conference Northern Division matchup.

It is the first time Smyrna lost a Henlopen North game since 2014, snapping a 20-game conference win-streak. The victory puts Sussex Central (3-0 Henlopen North, 5-1 overall) in the driver’s seat for the division championship and the automatic bid to the Division I state tournament that goes with it.

Smyrna’s Stephen Whaley gets some yardage.

For the Sussex Central seniors, it was the first time they had beaten Smyrna, the three-time defending state champion.

“The only mindset was we’re not losing four times to them,” said twin brother and wide receiver/defensive back Isaiah Barnes.

Sussex Central had been close before to downing the Eagles. Last year it was a one-score game at halftime before Smyrna went on a run in the second half.

Then two years ago the Golden Knights shut out Smyrna for the first three quarters just to see the Eagles storm back and win in the final seconds.

“It hurt,” Isaac Barnes said of the 2016 game. “I played so hard that game and it hurt me. I knew everytime I saw Smyrna since then I was going to give 110 percent.”

“In my head all day at school I was thinking we have to finish,” he added. “We couldn’t come up short anymore. We had to finish and do this.”

Sussex Central led wire-to-wire after TyJhir Sheppard-Parker scored on a 17-yard rush on Central’s first possession.

Barnes then connected with Javon Toppin for a 54-yard touchdown pass for a 14-0 lead. He threw his second touchdown with 11:48 left in the game to Domonique Smith for 65 yards.

Kasim Lewis sealed it with an interception returned for a touchdown with 10:26 left after the Eagles went for it on fourth down. The Sussex Central defense did not allow Smyrna to gain a first down until there was 2:37 left in the second quarter.

“Sussex Central was just a better team and they’re better than us in all phases of the game right now,” said Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “You can’t put yourself in a hole like we did against a team like that. We just got beat. We’re not where we need to be right now and that falls on us as coaches.”

Stephen Whaley rushed for a five-yard touchdown for Smyrna while Aidan Sanchez connected with Makhi Jackson for a 10-yard touchdown throw in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles dropped to 2-3 overall and 2-1 in Henlopen North play.

Since they only have nine games scheduled this year and probably can no longer rely on the automatic bid, they’ll likely have to win all of their remaining games to have a shot at the six-team Division I state tournament.

“We’re looking at our best finish being six wins and that’s going to be a tall task,” Judy said. “Central is the favorite to win the conference now. We just got to focus on the next game. I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll make the playoffs if we don’t win out but we need to focus on going 1-0 next week first.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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