SMYRNA The balance of power in Henlopen North football officially shifted with 2:28 remaining in the second quarter Saturday night.
Four plays after Sussex Tech blocked a punt to take possession at the Smyrna 11, the entire Smyrna defense stuffed the Ravens for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the 4. Then the Eagles’ offense went 93 yards in five plays, and the rout was on.
The fourth-ranked Eagles had their way from start to finish, continuing their amazing turnaround under second-year coach Mike Judy with a 42-0 whitewashing of the defending conference champions at Charles Williams Stadium.
Fifth-ranked Sussex Tech (5-1, 2-1) had won nine Henlopen North games in a row, including a 51-14 pasting of Smyrna last year. So payback was sweet for the Eagles (5-1, 2-0), who improved from 2-8 to 5-5 in Judy’s first season and are taking more leaps and bounds this year.
“It feels good, to get redemption,” Smyrna quarterback Nolan Henderson said. “It proves that our hard work has paid off. I’m just proud of my guys.”
The Eagles’ spread offense fired on all cylinders. Henderson completed 18 of 29 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns. Will Knight rushed 14 times for 166 yards and two scores. And the Smyrna defense held the Ravens to 134 yards, including 80 yards on 40 rushing attempts.
“I don’t like when people say spread teams are soft,” Judy said. “We’re pretty far from a soft team, in all facets of the game. That just gave us fuel for the fire all week long.”
Knight broke a 72-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, and added a 12-yard score to make it 14-0 with 8:20 left in the second quarter. But the Ravens threatened to seize the momentum just before halftime when Brennan Stark blocked a punt to set up Sussex Tech at the Eagles 11.
Two runs gained 2 yards, and a third-down pass fell incomplete. Smyrna jumped offside to shorten the Ravens’ task to fourth-and-3, but the Eagles gang-tackled Sussex Tech’s Ja’ron Hunt-Fletcher for a 3-yard loss to take over on downs at the 7.
“It was huge,” Judy said. “Considering that quick change of momentum, I thought our team responded to that in a positive way.”
The offense responded, too. Henderson completed four straight passes to four different receivers, including a 49-yarder to Brandon Bishop. Charlie Taylor grabbed an 11-yard TD pass to send the Eagles into the locker room up 22-0.
“We spread the ball around, and a lot of guys got touches,” Judy said. “Will had a great night, Nolan had another great night.”
The Eagles forced the Ravens to punt to start the second half. Henderson fired an intermediate strike to Donte Ritchie on the next play, and the senior zigzagged 55 yards into the end zone for a 28-0 lead.
Then Smyrna recovered one of its frequent onside kicks, and Henderson hooked up with Taylor for a 29-yard score four plays later to make it 34-0.
“We have a lot of depth in the receiving corps, and they’re amazing,” the quarterback said. “I can go to any one of them, and I know they will make a play.”
Henderson went to Bishop for the final TD, as he broke loose down the right sideline for a 47-yarder. That came shortly after the Eagles successfully defended their goal line again, stopping Sussex Tech on nine consecutive plays from inside the 7-yard line.
The win put Smyrna in the driver’s seat for the Henlopen North title. They still have to play Sussex Central, Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen and Polytech, but it’s hard not to envision the Eagles hanging a conference championship banner.
“It’s more than just for the program. It’s for the Smyrna-Clayton community,” Judy said. “This whole town, they have a winning tradition dating way back in football and wrestling. Football hasn’t been toeing the line like we should, and I feel like we’re doing them justice by playing our hearts out out here.”
Contact Brad Myers at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ