Unified Flag Football: State champion Dover, CR happy they got to play for title

Dover’s Josiah Rich catches a touchdown pass against Caesar Rodney’s Steven Grossman in the first quarter during the Unified Flag Football state final game at Dover on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Dover and Caesar Rodney High have met in countless athletic events.

But they’ve never squared off in an official, two-team state championship before.

That changed on Friday night, however, when the Senators and the Riders decided the DIAA Unified Flag Football state title.

And, in the end, it was Dover that prevailed, out-scoring CR, 60-45, to capture its second-straight state crown.

Despite playing in near-freezing temperatures, both sides thought it was pretty cool that the two crosstown rivals got to play for a championship.

Dover QB Matthew Sudusky scrambles against Caesar Rodney in the first quarter.

“I know I always had that friendly rivalry with CR,” said Dover senior Connor McPhail. “It always feels great to beat those guys. They played a great game.”

“It was fun getting here,” said CR sophomore Steven Grossman. “It’s great for these guys. They have a good time out on the field. It’s a good experience.

“Even if you don’t win in a state championship, it’s still fun to have the accomplishment of making it there. It was a good game.”

The Senators actually had only one returning player back from last year’s championship squad — junior Steven Powell. He made a lot of big plays for Dover on Friday night.

The Senators (6-1) scored at least 59 points in all three of their state tourney contests.

Caesar Rodney’s Ammar McNair rushes as Dover’s Conner McPhail reaches for the flag in the first quarter during the Unified Flag Football finals at Dover on Friday.

“Me and Lake (Lindale), we worked so hard for this,” said Powell. “We did this for our family. And we did it on our own turf. One of our goals was to go back-to-back — and that’s what we did.

“People who say you can’t do it, don’t believe them. Keep on pushing and prove them wrong.”

“Don’t believe any of the haters,” agreed Lindale, a senior. “Prove them wrong. It was my last year here, I might as well go out with a bang.”

Lindale and the Senators dedicated the game to his mom, who passed away from cancer earlier in the season.

Just like with any sport this fall, both teams had to navigate the coronavirus pandemic to get this season in. At a time when students don’t get to be around their friends as much, having something like Unified football was especially good for them this year.

The Riders also played seven games, finishing with a record of 5-2. Their only two losses were to Dover, with the first one coming in the season opener.

Dover’s Steven Powell rushes for a touchdown against CR in the first quarter.

“We weren’t sure about having a full season this year,” said CR’s Grossman. “But all the teams that wanted to play, we played together.”

“It felt like a sense of normalcy,” said McPhail. “We had a goal to win the state championship. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it because of COVID. So we were just grateful for the opportunity to get in the tournament. We just got the job done.”

Senators’ coach Gavin Schukoske said he was proud of his team’s effort all season. He said most the players always arrived early for practice.

In the end, he thinks the experience is a good one for everyone involved.

“With school being out, this was the only time they had to get together with their friends outside of going to each other’s houses here and there,” said Schukoske. “It was really awesome to be able to come together as a group and practice every week and play in games and really get some sense of normalcy in this crazy time.

“It was great to play our crosstown rival. A lot of these kids live in the same neighborhoods, or very close to each other. Steven Powell, a few people that he played against in the last couple years, they’ve really become friends — which is great. That’s what Unified did for him. He never would have met those kids if he hadn’t played Unified sports.”