It’s the defending champs vs. the new kids on the block.
No. 5 Sussex Tech has been cruising along a little under the radar this season, but is 5-0 behind a defense that has held its last four opponents to single digits. The Ravens are 2-0 in the Henlopen North, and have won their last nine conference games.
No. 4 Smyrna (4-1, 1-0) has been unstoppable all season, averaging 54.4 points per game as the Eagles continue their remarkable turnaround under second-year coach Mike Judy.
The clash of philosophies will be on full display at 6 p.m. Saturday at Smyrna, as Sussex Tech visits to try to maintain its perch atop the downstate Division I teams.
Ravens coach Mark Quillin knows the Eagles will test his defense severely. So the key may be to limit the amount of testing.
“They’re a dynamic offense. They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Quillin said. “I think the best defense is to keep their offense off the field. A good, steady dose of the run game, scoring points, using the clock to our advantage.”
Smyrna has been soaring behind quarterback Nolan Henderson, a bevy of athletic receivers (Charlie Taylor, Donte Ritchie, Brandon Bishop, Marquelle Bennett) and the constant running and receiving threat of Will Knight. The Eagles have also feasted on turnovers as opposing offenses try to match their pace.
“You can’t turn the ball over against them,” Quillin said. “You can’t give them the football anywhere.”
But Smyrna has a significant gap to close against Sussex Tech. Last year, as the Eagles were turning heads statewide while improving from 2-8 to 5-5, the Ravens still pasted them 51-14 on the way to the conference title.
“We were outmatched physically, and our aggression was outmatched by theirs,” Judy said. “They took it to us, and it was not just every play. It was every individual battle.
“I think our guys are a lot different this year. They’ve got a lot of confidence, and they put in a lot of time and effort into changing their bodies and making themselves a more stronger, physical team.”
The Eagles must be physical, because the Ravens will come at them with veteran quarterback Justin Hill and explosive running backs Pat Griffin, Timaun Williams and Isaiah Brown.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be very similar to what we saw against Salesianum,” Judy said. “A physical team that wants to run right at you. They will test every gap of your defense.”
Salesianum found plenty of gaps, as running back Colby Reeder rushed for 408 yards and seven touchdowns in a 76-56 victory. Smyrna has held its other four opponents to a combined 20 points, and Judy would certainly prefer that type of result. But he knows it won’t be easy.
“They have an offensive line that’s just a straight-up butt kicker, and they have a defense that’s very athletic,” Judy said. “They also have that swagger carrying over from last year.”
Sussex Tech’s leading receiver, Trent Hearn, will miss the game due to a broken wrist. But wideouts Noah Jones and Griffin Dunn have stepped up, Williams and Brown are receiving threats out of the backfield and tight end Jordan Marvel can surprise on crossing routes.
“It’s a pretty even matchup, really,” Quillin said. “They’ve got some good skill guys, so do we. It will be a great battle.”
Contact Brad Myers [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ