SMYRNA — Smyrna High’s football team hasn’t exactly struggled over the last three seasons.
But the Eagles also haven’t reached a DIAA state championship game in that span.
So top-seeded Smyrna was pretty excited to get back to a title game for the first time since 2017 after holding off determined No. 5 Dover, 40-21, in the Class 3A semifinals on Friday night.
Smyrna (10-2) advances to next Saturday’s state championship game, which is slated for 3:30 p.m. at Delaware Stadium. The Eagles will face the winner of Saturday’s other state semifinals, between No. 2 Middletown and third-seeded Salesianum.
It will be Smyrna’s fourth appearance in the state title game since 2015.
In the last home game of his career, Smyrna senior running back Wayne Knight turned in another big performance. He ran for 280 yards on 26 carries with three touchdowns and four two-point conversions.
Knight capped off the game on a 36-yard touchdown run with only 1:50 left as Smyrna scored the contest’s final 22 points.
“Oh man, this is actually my first time making it all the way,” said Knight, who was in eighth grad the last time Smyrna played for the title. “I can’t express the feeling right now but the job isn’t done. We’ve got to get to work on Monday and finish this thing out.
“This is really emotional,” he said about playing his last home game. “I’m glad I ended it this way and got the ‘W.’”
“In early September, we were sitting at 1-2,” said Eagles’ coach Mike Judy. “We talked to the team about, we’ve got to stay the course. If you keep working and if you do this thing the way it’s supposed to be done, you’re going to have a good opportunity to make it to Tubby Raymond (Delaware Stadium).
“It feels really good. It’s always tough to play against a guy like Coach Knapp. He’s got his team wired tight and they’re doing great things. This is good playoff football.”
The Senators, who were trying to reach a state championship game for the first time since 2001, finish 7-5 in their first season under coach Chip Knapp.
The Senators made the game very interesting in the second half.
Dover ran off 14 points in the third quarter before the Eagles ran their first offensive play.
Three plays into the second half, on a third-and-long, quarterback Jordan Moran threw up a ball to a group of players at the Smyrna 45. Dover tight end Elijah Sessoms was one of those players and he jumped up and tipped the ball to receiver John Parker, who was trailing on the play.
The freshman sprinted the rest of the way to complete a 75-yard scoring pass that got the Senators within 24-14.
Then, when Moran drilled the ensuing kickoff off a Smyrna player, Dover recovered the loose ball at the Eagles’ 44. Seven plays later, Jakwon Kilby swept in from 10 years out for the touchdown that made it 24-21 with 6:44 still left in the third quarter.
The Senators’ defense then made a fourth-down stop at its own five to keep Dover in the game.
With the chance to take their first lead of the night, the Senators weren’t able to put a drive together.
This time, Smyrna didn’t miss its opportunity to add to its lead.
The Eagles overcame a penalty that wiped out a 47-yard scoring run by Wayne Knight. Instead, Edge tossed a 25-yard touchdown to Devon DeMoe in the back corner of the end zone.
Smyrna’s fourth two-point conversion of the contest pushed the Eagles’ lead to 32-21 with 8:58 remaining.
Edge completed 16-of-21 passes for 179 yards.
“I’m totally proud of our guys,” said Knapp. “They laid it on the line. All we asked them was to give their best effort and play their hardest. If they do, good things are going to happen.
“That’s what happened in the third quarter. We have nothing to be ashamed of and a lot to be proud of the way we played.”
Leading 8-0 in the second quarter, the Eagles got a 19-yard touchdown pass from Edge to Yamir Knight on a fourth-down play. Edge had to scramble away from the Dover rush before Knight out-jumped a Senator defender in the end zone as Smyrna’s lead grew to 16-0.
But the Senators came back with a touchdown this time. On the ensuing possession, Dover went 65 yards, with wildcat quarterback Nahseem Cosme throwing a 20-yard scoring pass to fullback Sir William Bauer, who was wide open along the sidelines.
The 4:44 left on the clock, though, was enough time for the Eagles to drive for a third touchdown. Smyrna finished the march with Edge’s eight-yard scoring pass to DeMoe, who caught the ball just short of the goal line and fought his way in to the end zone.
The Eagles went into halftime with a 24-7 advantage.
The Eagles wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Smyrna took the opening kickoff and drove 67 yards on nine plays with Wayne Knight bursting 10 yards up the middle for the touchdown.
Knight added the two-point conversion to give the Eagles an 8-0 advantage.
While Dover wasn’t able to answer the Eagles’ TD, the Senators were able to use up some time on offense and limit Smyrna’s number of plays.
Smyrna defensive end Nate Chandler, a transfer from Dover, caught a two-point conversion pass after the Eagles’ second TD. ... Safety Isaac Stewart had two interceptions for the Eagles, giving him four for the season. ... The two DIAA academic award winners, who were honored before the contest, were Byron Evans (Dover) and Braden Adams (Smyrna).