NEWARK — Laurel High owned just a one-point lead Saturday afternoon.
And seven minutes stood between the Bulldogs and a second-straight DIAA Class 1A football state crown.
Laurel didn’t need to score a touchdown — it just needed to run off some time.
But the top-seeded Bulldogs did both, marching 54 yards on 11 plays to put away a 28-13 victory over No. 2 St. Elizabeth in the 1A state football title game at Delaware Stadium.
Leading just 14-13, Laurel scored twice in the final 2:42 as it finished a perfect 13-0 season.
Damonta Smith’s 45-yard fumble return for a TD with only 36 seconds left put the icing on the cake. It was the second year in a row that the Bulldogs beat the Vikings (11-2) for the title.
Senior running back Kylse Wilson ran for 190 yards and a TD on 29 carries.
“It feels good because those are the boys I grew up with,” said Wilson. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
After trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, St. Elizabeth had a chance to tie the contest after Christopher Caracter caught a 37-yard scoring pass from Cole Soto with 7:50 left.
But Laurel’s Patrick Belle and Tate Walls broke through to block the PAT kick and keep the Bulldogs with a one-point advantage.
Laurel then put together its 11-play, 54-yard march. Wilson finished the drive on a four-yard sweep for the TD with 2:42 remaining.
“We just dug deep and showed heart,” said Wilson. “That’s what we did and we got a touchdown. It feels good because the game was close. Everybody was hype and I was hype. It was special.”
“Just to have that will to physically push your way down the field, that was a championship drive,” said Laurel coach Joey Jones. “That’s what this team has done all year. So we had the confidence.
“That’s what championship teams do. It was just fun to see them will it together ... and to punch that thing in at the end.”
Belle also had a strip sack that forced the fumble for the Bulldogs’ final touchdown.
“It’s special just because of the guys that we have,” the junior said about winning the state title. “We’ve been playing with each other our whole lives. When we’ve got our minds on right, nothing can stop us.”
The Bulldogs never trailed in winning the program’s fifth state championship.
Laurel caught a break when St. Elizabeth fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. Owen Chaffinch recovered the ball at the Vikings’ 37.
Four plays later, on a fourth-and-two, Xavier Limehouse broke off a 29-yard touchdown run to put the Bulldogs up, 7-0, less than three minutes into the contest.
Laurel drove 68 yards on seven plays for its second TD. Walls went the last 13 yards on a counter to make it 14-0.
St. Elizabeth used a 22-yard halfback pass from Caracter to Thomas Schiavoni with 57 seconds left to make it 14-7 at intermission.
The score stayed that way until the last eight minutes.
Laurel finished with advantages of 304-271 in total yards and 16-13 in first downs. The Bulldogs put up 288 yards on the ground.
Things are expected to get more difficult for Laurel next fall.
Not only do the Bulldogs lose 20 seniors but they’re moving up to Class 2A next season. Laurel went 24-2 in two years in Class 1A.
The creation of Class 1A was to help struggling programs or ones that were just starting out.
“In a broader scheme, its benefited a lot of other teams,” said Jones. “That’s what it was intended to do.
“We’re going up. We got that bump and I think we earned our way up. I’m excited to get a new approach and move ahead with the guys we’ve played against forever. That (Class 2A) District III looks to be the Henlopen again, so it should be fun. We got the benefit, we got to build just like the other 1A schools. I think we’re ready for 2A.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @DSNSports.