WILMINGTON — Right down to the uniform colors, it was like looking into a mirror.
Unfortunately for No. 6 seed Lake Forest Saturday afternoon in the Division II state football tournament, its reflection shined a little brighter.
Third-seeded Wilmington Friends took a page out of the Spartans’ book, controlling field position with its defense and chipping away at Lake while on offense using short passes and a strong ground game to score a 34-14 victory at Tower Hill.
The win advanced the Quakers (10-1) to next weekend’s semifinals against either No. 2 Delaware Military Academy or fifth-seeded Howard. Lake Forest finished the season 8-3.
“Whoever we got, we’ll give it our all,” said Friends defensive and tight end Thomas Cover. “We’ll work hard all week.”
Leading by just a touchdown with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Quakers put together a nine-play drive that ended in the end zone four minutes later.
Starting at its own 35, Friends went backwards on its first play but moved the chains on second down when junior quarterback Justin Beneck found a wide open Cover with a pass 14 yards down the field. From there the Quakers kept it on the ground, chewing up clock and yardage until junior running back Henry Gise scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 7-yard run to help put the game nearly out of reach at 28-14.
On its next possession, Lake fumbled the ball away at its own 41 where Friends sophomore Ikechukwu Adebi recovered. Afterwards, the Quakers sealed the win with a short drive that Gise capped with an 11-yard TD run.
“We knew they were going to come out and run the ball,” Cover said. “They have a pretty good quarterback who can run the option well, (so) we just focused on what we could do and gave it all we’ve got.”
Right from the start Friends seemed in control of the game, receiving the opening kickoff and marching 74 yards on 13 plays and taking a 6-0 lead on Beneck’s 1-yard keeper.
Following a three-and-out by Lake, the Quakers made it 14-0 early in the second quarter when Beneck scored again, this time on a 4-yard run at the end of a 62-yard drive, and added a two-point conversion pass to Cover. Beneck, who had a third touchdown run at the end of the third quarter that with the point after made the score 21-7, credited his offensive line for his TDs.
“They did a great job today,” Beneck said. “I love those guys.”
Trailing 14-0 after Beneck’s second touchdown, Lake looked like it had possibly grabbed some momentum going into halftime when it put together a scoring drive that included a 33-yard completion from quarterback Noah Feague-Johnson to halfback Trevon Milton on third-and-19. Senior Amir White finished the drive with a 2-yard trip to pay dirt and Lake went into the half behind by just seven points.
“We came out a little flat and they jumped on us 14-0, but I thought we had a little momentum going into halftime,” Lake coach Freddie Johnson. “But then… we just didn’t play well.”
Again behind by two touchdowns after Beneck’s third TD run, which was setup by a series of events that included an uncalled running into the kicker penalty against the Spartans and an unsportsmanlike penalty against Lake that gave Friends the ball at the six, the Henlopen South champs answered.
Engineering its best drive of the game, Lake used 12 plays to go 66 yards, the last 20 by Milton who crossed the goal line with 8:30 to play. The touchdown and ensuing point after turned out to be the last points the Spartans would score in the season, as Gise and the Quakers iced it from there.
Although visibly disappointed with the way the season ended, Johnson said he is proud of what the Spartans were able to accomplish during the campaign.
“It was a pleasure working with this group of seniors, they are a good and close group,” he said of the soon-to-be graduating class that includes his son, Feague-Johnson. “And it was a pleasure coaching my son the last couple years. I just wish it could have ended on a different note, but I’m proud of them.”