SMYRNA — Smyrna High’s path to the state title game started in the spring.
The Eagles exceeded coach Mike Judy’s expectations in his first year, going 5-5, their best record since 2008.
All of Smyrna’s offensive starters were returning for this season. So when the coaching staff came together in springtime, they decided this lofty goal was possible.
“We had a coaches’ meeting in the spring,” Judy said. “We looked at each other and we all were in agreement, there was no reason for us not to be able to win it all this year. Whether we were going to do it or not, in our minds, that’s the goal.”
Smyrna (11-1) has that chance today when it meets top-seeded Salesianum (10-1) in the DIAA Division I football state championship at 1 p.m. at Delaware Stadium.
Smyrna has only played in one state title game — a defeat to Glasgow in 1975 in the Division II championship. Salesianum has won four Division I championships since 2005.
The Eagles’ lone loss this year came against the Sals in the third week of the season. It was a wild offensive affair that ended 76-56. Smyrna trailed 21-0, led 36-35 and ended the game being outscored 34-13.
Both coaches aren’t expecting as much offense on display this time around.
“I know that was pretty exciting for everyone involved but I think both teams have really improved defensively,” said Sallies coach Bill DiNardo. “I don’t think it’ll be a 7-3 ballgame by any means, but I also don’t think we’ll get the shootout that we saw the first time. They’ve improved very much defensively and we have too.”
“I can’t see another game like that happening,” Judy said. “I really can’t. I would not expect it to be a high-scoring game like that. I would expect both defenses to play better.”
The question for Smyrna is if junior quarterback Nolan Henderson will be able to play.
Henderson left last weekend’s semifinal victory over William Penn on a stretcher with a neck injury right before halftime. If Henderson can’t play, the Eagles will shift from their high-scoring spread offense to a Wildcat formation featuring sophomore Will Knight behind center. Knight ran for 270 yards and four touchdowns out of that formation in the 30-13 win at William Penn.
Salesianum will definitely be without its starting quarterback. Senior Garrett Cannon fractured his ankle in the Sals’ semifinal contest against Middletown. Sophomore Zach Gwynn will start in his place.
The Sals are led by senior running back Colby Reeder, who rushed for more than 400 yards in the week three matchup against Smyrna with seven touchdowns. Reeder has 1,916 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns on 225 carries through 11 games, averaging 8.5 yards per carry.
Reeder was named the Gatorade Delaware Football Player of the Year this past week.
“Reeder is the best player in the state,” said Dover High coach Dante Jones. “He plays with so much heart and passion. punished him, but he would not stop.”
Judy said the hope for the Smyrna defense is to contain Reeder’s big-play ability. If the Eagles can do that, they’ll have a chance to hoist their first football state title.
“He’s the heart and soul of that team along with the offensive line,” Judy said. “The key to the game is going to be if we’re able to slow him down. I’m not going to say stop him, because I don’t know if anyone can stop him, to be honest.”