DOVER — Sussex Central High didn’t like the way it played in the first half.
The good news for the Golden Knights was they had the whole second half to fix it.
Sussex Central scored 16 unanswered points to take the lead in the third quarter and held off Dover for a 23-20 Henlopen Conference Northern Division football victory on Friday night.
KiAnte Sturgis scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, including the go-ahead score, to lead Sussex Central (4-2 North, 5-4 overall).
“We were disappointed (at halftime),” Sturgis said. “We were trying to play by ourselves. We weren’t working as a team. We were being individuals. The second half we played as a team and look what happened.”
Dover (1-4 North, 3-6 overall) was up at halftime 13-7, but Central rallied with a 30-yard Sturgis touchdown followed by Kendrique Nocks’ 10-yard rushing touchdown to go up 23-13 late in the third quarter.
Dover sophomore quarterback Mike Williams scored his second touchdown of the game to close the gap to three points in the fourth with 10:49 left. Sussex Central responded with a clock-killing drive and the Senators weren’t able to move the ball across midfield the rest of the game.
Williams was playing after Dover’s senior starter Triston Harris suffered an injury in the first half and did not return.
“That hurts their offense because he’s the real deal,” said Sussex Central coach John Wells. “He’s a tremendous high school football player. We’re not going to leave here overconfident in anything. We’re just happy to escape with a win. We’re going to be very humble winning by three.”
The Senators had one final chance to win or tie in the fourth quarter when they forced a turnover on downs at their own two-yard line with 3:14 remaining. Sussex Central had already converted three times on fourth down in the second half, but the Senators swarmed a sweep attempt to stop the Golden Knights short of the goal-line.
Dover earned one first down on a fourth-and-six attempt and soon found itself facing another fourth down, 75 yards away from the end zone with under 1:30 remaining.
After a timeout the Senators tried running a reverse, there looked to be open field but the Golden Knight linebackers stepped up for a tackle three yards short of the first down marker.
“The defense bailed us out,” Wells said. “They had a little bit of daylight on the reverse and the defense filled their lanes. It was pretty nice.”
Sussex Central who is in contention for the last playoff spot with a host of other teams, finishes its season with Indian River next Friday. The Golden Knights have had to overcome injuries to seven different starters at various points this year.
“You can’t change the past with who was injured or not injured and who played well or didn’t play well,” Wells said. “Being 5-4, guaranteed a .500 record with the tough schedule we had and a chance to go 6-4, it shows the kids don’t quit.
“You can talk about being proud of teams for going to the playoffs or doing some special things, but I’m pretty proud of this team here for going through the major injuries we’ve had and sticking together. They don’t quit and you’ve got to love that as a coach.”
Dover led twice in the first half, first on a 2-yard run by Jerry Warren. Then after the Golden Knights tied it on a 40-yard touchdown by Sturgis, Williams scored a touchdown on his first drive replacing Harris at quarterback.
The touchdown that pleased the home crowd the most on Senior Night came before the game.
Dover sent out senior manager Samantha Wierney in full uniform to run back a kickoff attempt. With the crowd chanting her name and all 11 players on the field from both teams cheering her along, she scored before she was given high fives from the Dover sideline and a hug by Dover coach Dante Jones.