SMYRNA — Smyrna High’s football program has waited a long time to get another football state tournament victory.
The Eagles weren’t about to let this opportunity pass them by.
While it wasn’t always easy, third-seeded Smyrna its high-powered offense to a 56-32 victory over No. 6 Mount Pleasant in the DIAA Division I state quarterfinals before a big crowd at Charles Williams Stadium on Friday night.
The win was the Eagles’ first football state tourney victory since 1975, when they were in Division II.
The program’s first-ever Division I tourney victory sends Smyrna (10-1) to a semifinal matchup with second-seeded William Penn (9-1) next Saturday. The defending Division I state champion Colonials will host the contest at 1 p.m.
“It’s huge,” said Smyrna coach Mike Jury. “It’s one of the goals we set at the beginning of the season. Goal one was to win the conference, goal two was to win 11 games and goal three is to have turkey dinner together as a family. It looks like we’re going to be doing that.
“We’ve got one more game at least in us. We’re keeping our eyes on the prize. It was a nice win for us but it wasn’t satisfactory. You could see it in the kids’ eyes — they didn’t like those 32 points on the board.”
Smyrna never trailed after sophomore running back Will Knight broke off a 75-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the contest. Knight finished with 249 yards on 25 carries.
Along with the TD he also ran for six two-point conversions and threw for another.
Junior quarterback Nolan Henderson also had a big night, completing 13-of-23 passes for 241 yards with five touchdowns. Four of those scoring passes were pulled in by receiver Donte Ritchie.
The Eagles, who were playing in the state tourney for the first time since 2004, did break open up a 24-6 lead in the first quarter. But the Green Knights (7-4), who were making their first tournament appearance since 1981, came roaring back in the second quarter.
Back-to-back touchdowns pulled Mount Pleasant within 24-20.
But Smyrna answered with a pair of TDs in the final six minutes of the second quarter to take a 40-20 advantage into halftime.
In the closing minutes of the half, the Eagles’ defense stopped the Green Knights on a fourth-and-goal from the one. Smyrna then turned around and went 99 yards in just seven plays for a back-breaking touchdown.
Henderson found Ritchie on a middle screen pass and Ritchie turned it into a 13-yard scoring play with 39.2 seconds left before intermission. Earlier in the drive, Ritchie took a short pass, broke some tackles and end up with a 50-yard reception.
In the third quarter, a Henderson quick-kick punt pinned Mount Pleasant at its own one. Two plays later, defensive back Jake Kaiser stepped in front of a quick slant and sprinted eight yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
The game briefly went to a running clock later in the third quarter when the Eagles stretched their lead to 56-20. That makes nine times in 11 games this year that Smyrna has had a running clock with at least a 35-point lead in the second half.
But the Green Knights scored the final two touchdowns of the game. The Eagles did reach their regular-season average of 55 points.
“It’s no shock that they were going to make plays,” Judy said about the Green Knights. “We talk about the offense and how much we’re going to score. They’re going to do their thing.
“Seeing my defense’s eyes, they were not satisfied. They’re going to come our hungry this week.”