Wins still a big deal for First State Military Academy

CLAYTON — First State Military had the game won.

Or so it seemed.

Holding a late seven-point lead over Wilmington Charter last Friday, the Bulldogs had just taken over at the Force five-yard-line with a chance to add an insurance touchdown.

But the next thing FSMA’s players knew, Charter recovered a fumble in the end zone, got the ball at the 20 and were starting to drive the other way.

“When they got the ball back, I was really, really scared about what was going to happen,” said senior lineman Jalen Adger-Thomas. “But I kept faith and kept trust in the team that we would do what we would have to do in order to get the job done at the end of the day.”

Sure enough the Bulldogs made the stop at midfield to finally secure a 21-14 victory over Charter.

“It was probably one of the most bizarre endings I’ve been a part of,” said FSMA coach Blair Newman.

The Bulldogs, of course, will happily take the victory. Wins aren’t an everyday occurrence for the third-year varsity program.

Still, the Bulldogs take a 3-3 record into today’s 5 p.m. matchup with Delaware Military (5-2). The contest will be played at FSMA’s second home field at Kent County’s Kesserling Field in Dover.

The Bulldogs have already won as many games as they did all last season in a 3-6 campaign. And the victory over Charter was actually the program’s first over a Division I school.

“There was a lot of emotion in that game, ups and downs,” said senior quarterback Anthony Gaston from Smyrna. “It was a big relief (at the end). Your heart’s pumping. It felt really good.”

“Any time we’re moving in the right direction and we’re winning football games, for our team and our school, it’s an accomplishment,” said Newman, the former Caesar Rodney High standout.

“I think any time you win a football game, it’s exciting. … especially for our kids. Being the program that we’ve had over the past couple years — and wins are kind of sparse — any time we win a football game the excitement in our kids is awesome.”

Of course progress isn’t always measured in victories.

Last season, FSMA lost to St. Andrews, 32-7. This year, the Bulldogs lost to the Cardinals just 33-32 in a back-and-forth contest played on the school campus in Clayton.

FSMA missed a chance at the victory on a failed two-point conversion try after its last touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“I started here when we had nothing,” said senior running back/linebacker Christopher Connelly of Middletown. “Now we’ve come along as a team. I’m pretty proud of the boys.

“It feels good,” he said about being 3-3. “What I like about this team is we always work hard. We do put our heads down at times but we manage to stick to it and still work as a team. We always communicate with each other.”

On a roster of 33 players, the Bulldogs have only six seniors. There’s a camaraderie that comes from being part of a small school and being together much of the day.

The motivation that comes from being an underdog in most of its games doesn’t hurt, either.

“I always tell my teammates, hard work beats talent when talent stops working hard,” said Adger-Thomas, a tight end/defensive end from Smyrna. “I think it’s more of a ‘who wants it more’ type of a game.

“We go up against DMA and Archmere and they have all these big linemen that may look intimidating. Yeah, they’re going to be a little more challenging than the rest of the teams we play. But it doesn’t mean we don’t want to block anybody. We’re still going to go 100 percent all the time.”

FSMA still has three games remaining — against DMA, Tatnall and Archmere. The Bulldogs need only one more victory to break their record for wins in a season.

Of course, as young as the program is, any victory is cause for celebration — especially ones like last week where FSMA’s players had to work until the very end.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Connelly said about the win over Charter. “But it came down to the final moment of us working as a team, coming together and pushing forward.

“You’ve got a lot of adrenaline going through you but it feels good. I’m proud of these boys.”

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