Wolverines welcome rival Gulls with NJAC title on the line

Wesley Drass Oct. 2015 by .

Mike Drass

DOVER — It’s not like they need an excuse to get fired up about playing each other.

But, for Wesley College’s and Salibury’s football players, a conference title is a pretty good reason.

Both first-year members, the fourth-ranked Wolverines (7-0 NJAC, 8-0 overall) and the Sea Gulls (5-1, 5-2) will decide the New Jersey Athletic Conference title on Saturday at noon in Wesley’s Miller Stadium.

These are the kind of opportunities the Wolverines envisioned when they first decided to join the league.

“Our first meeting, we put it right up on the big screen, our goal is to win the NJAC title,” said coach Mike Drass. “We tell our kids, a football player chooses Wesley for games like this — to be in this type of game in November.”

“That’s why I came here — good competition,” said junior running back Jamar Baynard. “It’s been a rivalry for a long time, way before I was here. To be in a championship (game) with a good team and a rival like this makes the game even more exciting.”

Wesley has battled Salisbury for league crowns before, They were both members of the Atlantic Central Football Conference, which the Wolverines won nine times between 1997 and 2010.

But those titles didn’t carry an automatic NCAA Division III playoff berth with them like the NJAC championship does.

That makes Saturday’s showdown especially critical for the Sea Gulls, who need the title to make the playoffs. Salisbury was ranked No. 18 in the D3football.com poll before being knocked off by Christopher Newport, 51-39, last Saturday.

Wesley has won 10 straight games in the rivalry based in large part on its ability to control Salisbury’s triple-option offense.

With Gulls ranked second in the country at 375.9 rushing yards per game, the challenge will be just as big this year. Salisbury’s leading rusher is Cape Henlopen High grad Jerome Johnson (98.3 yard-average, 9 touchdowns).

“We try to put work in all the time, but during Salisbury week there’s a lot more preparation that we have to do,” said junior cornerback Anthony Brinkley. “If you know how to defend it (the triple option), it’s pretty easy — it’s a basic concept. But, if you don’t, you’ll have a long day.”

“We talk about a disciplined offense calls for a disciplined defense,” said Drass. “Number one, you’ve got to know your assignment. Two, you have to execute your assignment.

“When you play an option team like this, you cannot make a mistake. Seventy yards later, it’s a touchdown. And we’ve been there.”

Baynard does it all

If Baynard only ran the ball or only caught it, he’d still be a pretty impressive running back.

But the fact that the Middletown High grad does both well, makes him a handful to stop.

“If he’s not the most complete player on the East Coast, I don’t know who is,” said Drass.

In last Saturday’s 56-22 win at Montclair State, Baynard not only ran the ball 28 times for 183 yards and two TDs but added five catches for 92 more yards.

After eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season (he now has 1,0001), Baynard leads the NJAC in rushing (125.1 yards) and is tied for second in both scoring (72 points) and all-purpose yards (179.2 yards).

He’s even tied for sixth in the conference in receptions with 36 for 434 yards.

For a program that has frequently used several different running backs, Baynard rarely leaves the field when the offense has the ball.

“He’s the ultimate definition of a workhorse,” said Drass. “And he seems to get stronger and stronger as the game goes along.

“When we recruited him out of high school, we just felt like this is a guy that you could really build a running game around. He’s the type of talent that you build a program around.”

Often playing out of a one-back formation, Baynard also helps keep blitzing defenders off of quarterback Joe Callahan.

“I try my best to stay in the game because I know the team needs me,” said Baynard. “Whatever I need to do to stay out there. …

“I try to be versatile. I think I could play receiver. If you have all the weapons on the outside and, if I’m coming out as a running back and I catch, I believe that gives the defense even more problems.”

Extra points

Along with Baynard, teammates Bryce Shade and James Okike have also scored 12 touchdowns apiece. … Shade leads the NJAC in all-purpose yards with an average of 182.5 per game. … Besides Cape’s Johnson, Indian River High grad Aarron Moore is Salisbury’s other starting slotback. The junior is averaging 47 yards per game and has scored six TDs. … Sussex Tech grad Shane Marvel, a junior linebacker, is the Gulls’ second-leading tackler with 33 stops. … With Alex Kemp punting for Wesley and Tim Steindl punting for Salisbury, both punters in Saturday’s contest will be Caesar Rodney High grads. Steindl also kicks off for Salisbury.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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