Sussex Tech, Smyrna eye football showdown Saturday

Sussex Tech QB Justin Hill

Quarterback Justin Hill is one of the keys to the Sussex Tech offense. (Delaware State News file photo)

Sussex Tech rolled through the Henlopen Conference Northern Division last season on its way to the conference title.

Smyrna High was one of those teams looking up at the Ravens last year.

But this season the two teams have been on a collision course in a game that could go a long way to deciding the Henlopen North. Sussex Tech, the defending champion, will travel to upstart Smyrna on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Both teams are unbeaten in the North, while Tech is 5-0 overall and Smyrna stands at 4-1 with a loss to Salesianum in a high-scoring affair, 76-56.

Sussex Tech has won the last three matchups, including a 51-14 victory at Smyrna in 2014. The Eagles don’t have great memories of that game, but they are pleased that last year’s star running back, Kani Kane, has graduated from Sussex Tech.

“The play that sticks out in my mind the most is we actually had them bottled up in the first series on a third and long,” recalled Smyrna coach Mike Judy. “They gave it to Kani Kane on a play we knew that was coming and we had guys in place. He ran by a guy, stiff-armed a guy and knocked a guy over and ran all the way down our sideline.

“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t know how we could have played that better.’ Then their defense got on the field and smacked us around. There was a little bit of helplessness. Our kids never stopped fighting but a lot of that was in vain. Something tells me that won’t be the case this year.”

Sussex Tech coach Mark Quillin is also expecting a closer contest, thanks to Smyrna’s high-powered offense, which has averaged 54.4 points per game led by quarterback Nolan Henderson and running back Will Knight (15 touchdowns).

“I think they’re very talented,” Quillin said. “It’s going to be a battle. The last two weeks we’ve really faced teams that run the ball right down your throats. Now we’re going to go to a team that has a pretty good mix. They can run the ball, they can throw the ball around – the deep ball, the intermediate ball.

“Of course, the best (strategy) for us is not to give them the football. That’s kind of our key. We want to try and control the football, eight, nine, 10 plays, score four or five times and only give you the ball a couple times. If we get a couple stops, we can win.

“I hope it’s not going to be a 76-56 game, whatever that was with Sallies. We don’t want to get into a shootout. We want to control the ball, control the clock.

“With two good offenses and two good defenses, special teams might be the one thing that turns the table around a little bit.”

The Ravens are expected to be without standout running back Patrick Griffin after the senior was ejected from Saturday’s 17-6 win over Caesar Rodney. Griffin was thrown out after a brief altercation following a running play.

Ejections carry a mandatory one-game suspension.

“Like I told the kids, no one player is going to make or break our season or our game,” Qullin said. “We’re going to find someone else to replace him. He’ll be missed if we don’t have him. He’s done a great job for us. But life lessons are hard sometimes.”

Still, Judy knows that the Ravens aren’t built around just one player. They have runners like Timaun Williams and Isaiah Brown along with quarterback Justin Hill.

“They have some dynamic running backs who are a different kind of threat,” Judy said. “I fully anticipate a tough, hard-nosed team in Tech, who will be bringing us their best game of the year.”

Sussex Tech faced a similar situation last season when the Ravens went into Cape Henlopen in a matchup featuring the only two remaining unbeaten Henlopen North teams. The game was never close as the Ravens rolled to a 49-13 victory.

Sussex Tech has two Henlopen North titles all-time (2009, 2014). Smyrna has won six Henlopen division titles in football but none since 1986 when the Eagles were tri-champions in the South. Smyrna’s only North crown came in 1969 in the present conference’s first year of existence.

“We’re not looking at it as this is thee game because if we win we still have to face the rest of the North,” Judy said. “We fully understand that if we win this game were another step closer to our goal but it’s definitely not over yet. Our team has done such a good job of focusing on the task at hand.”

“We know they’re a very good team,” Hill said. “We’re going to respect them and prepare for them as best as we can. We’re going to try to bring it. I think our players know what’s at stake. Every team is coming for us.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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