William Penn tops Sussex Central 12-7 in Division I tourney

Sussex Central’s Isaac Barnes tries to run past several William Penn defenders during Friday night’s Division I tournament game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

GEORGETOWN — In a defensive struggle Friday night, No. 5 William Penn upset No. 4 Sussex Central 12-7 in the first round of the DIAA Division I state football tournament.

Two big William Penn offensive plays turned out to be the difference.

Senior running back Isaiah Gaynor ran for a 58-yard score early in the second quarter and junior quarterback Noah Ogbin threw a 29-yard strike to senior wideout Terin Cochran for a third quarter touchdown for the Colonials.

The win sets up William Penn in next week’s Division I semifinals, where the Colonials will meet either No. 1 Middletown or No. 2 Smyrna.

Sussex Central quarterback Isaac Barnes eyes a receiver downfield during Friday’s state tournament game vs. William Penn. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

“We’re just happy to come away with the win today,” William Penn head coach Marvin Dooley said. “Bottom line is, I don’t think it matters who you get in the next round, they’re both great teams.”

Sussex Central battled throughout the game despite missing a handful of key players on both sides of the football.

The Golden Knights’ Zion Reed tries to haul in a pass as William Penn’s Matt Hibbert defends Friday night. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

“We give them credit,” Sussex Central head coach John Wells said. “Their defense is good. Interiorly, we had a rough time getting pushed by their guys up front. We’re smaller and younger.”

Missing four starters, Sussex Central had a ‘next man up’ mentality and had guys stepping in to fill the void.

“We had a couple guys out with injuries, and we lost a kid today before the game – one of our top guys. We’re using our third and fourth string fullbacks,” Wells said. “I commend our kids for what they did today. You’re short-handed in Wing-T, losing your top rusher and starting linebacker, it hurts. But I was happy with the effort. With four guys out of the lineup, they were playing ball out there.”

Sussex Central received the opening kickoff and proceeded to march down the field inside William Penn territory, picking up four first downs in the process.

The eight-minute drive would eventually stall, and William Penn would force a turnover on downs at their own 26-yard line.

Forcing a quick three and out, Sussex Central moved the ball into William Penn territory once again on their second possession before a second consecutive turnover on downs.

Gaynor’s 58-yard touchdown run with 8:05 in the second quarter put the Colonials ahead 6-0.

“The defender just barely missed the tackle. He barely got loose, but there was nothing else behind him. So, if that guy doesn’t make the tackle, we knew we had green grass,” said Dooley of the counter play Gaynor turned into a touchdown.

The two squads exchanged punts before heading into the halftime break with a 6-0 score.

Early in the third quarter, a special teams gaffe helped William Penn extend the lead to two scores.

A fumbled snap on a Sussex Central punt allowed the Colonials to take over at the Golden Knights’ 31-yard line.

Two plays later, William Penn cashed in.

Quarterback Noah Ogbin hit receiver Terin Cochran in the end zone from 29 yards out. A failed two-point conversion put the Colonials up 12-0 with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter.

William Penn’s defense kept Central out of the end zone for three quarters, but the Golden Knights finally put points on the board early in the fourth quarter.

Sussex Central’s #20 Zion Reed shakes off William Penn’s #5 Matt Hibbert. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

Senior running back Drew Morris capped a 94-yard scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal. The touchdown and extra point made it a 12-7 game with 7:17 to play.

As it has all season, Sussex Central’s defense made a play when it needed to.

Central came up with a crucial sack of Ogbin on third down during William Penn’s ensuing drive, forcing a punt with just over four minutes remaining.

A fourth & 12 incomplete pass appeared to end Sussex Central’s comeback bid with 1:52 to play, but William Penn fumbled the ball right back to the Golden Knights with 1:37 left.

With one last-ditch effort, William Penn’s sophomore cornerback Kyrees Pettiford sealed the victory with an interception on a Sussex Central reverse-pass attempt.

“I think they realize how close we were of going to the semifinal,” Wells said. “Hopefully it does motivate them. We told them in the post-game speech we start again on Monday. Monday, we will be back in the weight room.”

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