Short in Finals
With Loss to Newark
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Photos: Sussex Central's Jonathan Ricketts (22, above) bursts down the sideline on an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Below, SC quarterback Blake Hershelman after the final gun and a collage of SC split end Andrew Weatherly outfighting Newark's Dennis Williams for a touchdown catch.
DOVER -- The Sussex Central High School football team put up a valiant fight but couldn't oust Newark from the Delaware Division I state championship throneon Saturday, Dec. 2, 2000.
Sussex Central trailed the Yellow Jackets just 20-13 at halftime but hobbled by nagging injuries and missing key starters in the secondary, the Golden Knights couldn't prevent the Yellow Jackets from claiming their fourth straight state title, a 12-0 record, their 22nd straight win, and their 47th win in their last 48 games.
The game pitted the Knights, in their first championship game ever, against a Newark team that was playing in its sixth straight final.
The Knights, though, didn't play like they were in their first final against a vaunted opponent.
Down 7-0 with 3:15 left in the first quarter after a 21-yard touchdown pass from Newark quarterback Eric Spiese to running back Brandon Snow, the Golden Knights tied the score in the second period on a 23-yard strike from quarterback Blake Hershelman to split end Andrew Weatherly. Kicker Justin Battaglino's extra point kick tied the game 7-7 with 6:47 left in the first half.
Newark answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Nelson Drew, the game's leading rusher with 147 yards on 22 carries, but the Knights' J.J. Ricketts electrified the crowd with a 75-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff that brought the Knights within 14-13 with 2:30 left in the half.
The next two and a half minutes pretty much decided the Knights' fate, though, as Newark used a 53-yard pass from Spiese to wide receiver John Parkinson to set up a 4-yard TD run by Drew with 48 seconds left.
Then, on their last possession of the half, the Knights, for all intents and purposes, lost Hershelman when 6-4, 268-pound Newark tackle Orien Harris fell on his calf and he had to be helped off the field with a twisted ankle.
Hershelman returned in the second half at quarterback but his limited mobility eliminated the running ability that makes him so effective and made it hard for him to pass with any zip.
He couldn't go at all at strong safety in the second half and with two other starters missing from the defensive backfield, the Knights had to play the entire second half with three reserves in the secondary. Spiese took advantage of that by connecting on 7 passes for 65 yards in the second half including a couple of big passes to Parkinson that kept drives alive.
Hershelman's absence also hurt the Knights' rushing defense as he provided strong run support to the Knights' front seven all season.
To make matters worse, senior George Davis, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past three seasons, suffered through an 18-yard performance, one of the worst of his career.
After those developments, the Yellow Jackets took the game over in the second half, controlling the ball against the Knights the way the Knights had so often during the season.
Newark allowed the Knights only 10 plays and one first down in the second half while scoring on a 32-yard field goal by John Brayman and a 1-yard sweep by Drew.
For the game, Newark outgained Sussex Central 372-142 and had 16 first downs to Sussex Central's 6.
The loss finished the best season in Sussex Central history at 10-2 overall.
3:15 -- NEWARK (7-0 Newark)
6:47 -- SUSSEX CENTRAL (7-7)
2:46 -- NEWARK (14-7 Newark)
2:30 -- SUSSEX CENTRAL (14-13 Newark)
:48 -- NEWARK (20-13 Newark)
2:53 -- NEWARK (23-13 Newark)
11:11 -- NEWARK (29-13 Newark)
Total Offense -- Newark 55-372, Sussex Central 36-142.
Rushing -- Newark 40-211, Sussex Central 27-56.
Passing -- Newark 10-15-0, 161; Sussex Central 4-9-1, 86.
First Downs -- Newark 16, Sussex Central 6.
Fumbles/Lost -- Newark 2/1, Sussex Central 2/2.
Penalties/Yards -- Newark 5-30, Sussex Central 4-22.
Newark -- Nelson Drew 22-147, Drew Kisner 7-44, Austin Kisner 8-20, Eric Spiese 2-1, James Vitek 1-(-1).
Sussex Central -- J.J. Ricketts 4-29, Teddy Thompson 6-21, George Davis 9-18, Blake Hershelman 3-(-11), Andrew Weatherly 5-(-1).
Newark -- Eric Spiese 10-15-0, 161.
Sussex Central -- Blake Hershelman 4-8-0, 86; David Pusey 0-1-1.
Newark -- John Parkinson 5-114, Nelson Drew 2-17, Brandon Snow 1-21, Steve Selk 1-6, Austin Kisner 1-3.
Sussex Central -- Leroy Mann 2-50, Andrew Weatherly 1-23, George Davis 1-13.
Sussex Central head coach John Wells on whether Newark wore the Knights down:
"We've been a second half team all year. They got the breaks in the second half. I don't think they wore us down. You take Blake out of our defense and that's the strong safety and that's the focal point of our defense. We fumbled the ball and gave them something down at that end. We just never got it going in the second half with turnovers, they've been opportunistic all year long and they were again today. They're a great team. They got the breaks also. We weren't fatigued. We weren't tired. We'd love to play two more quarters if we were healthy."
Wells on Newark's touchdown to go ahead 20-13 late in the second half:
"Again, no excuses, I've got two D-Backs out. We lost one in the Dover game and then I lost one to eligibility, so we were down in our depth in our secondary. Leroy (Mann) did a great job trying to cover those guys for awhile. Our boys were resilient. They came back with a kickoff return. They played hard."
Wells on J.J. Ricketts' 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown:
"We called a wall right. We felt with their speed that if we could get them pursuing to the ball and then break a wall on them. We walled it up and they bit and I got great blocking from the middle of the field over, starting with George Davis had a great block and 'Drew (Andrew Weatherly) blocked No. 4 and Jon Jon was gone. It was called and the boys executed a good call."
Wells on being unable to get 1,000-yard rusher George Davis untracked:
"No, no we weren't, and I'll leave it at that. Some guys stepped up like Jon Jon Ricketts and Blake Hershelman, and some other guys didn't. I'll leave it right there."
Wells on the team's seniors:
"I had those guys when they were in seventh grade before I came up. I knew what they were about before I came here so I knew they were going to be good. Getting up here, they saw the Mark Pettigouts and Devon Horseys, their involvement in turning the program around when we first started as a staff. They were undefeated as freshmen, they lifted weights for four years, they're tremendous athletes and they're dedicated. They're leaders."
Sussex Central quarterback Blake Hershelman on the underdog role:
"We knew they were heavily favored. They're a great team as you all saw. We came out and played them tough, though. We never backed down from 'em, we played them for four quarters. They got some breaks. I thought we stepped up and played well in the first half, but some injuries hurt us. Everybody stepped up, nobody quit, and that's all you can ask."
Hershelman on his ankle injury late in the first half:
"I thought I was going to try it but I didn't think I was going to be able to play. I wasn't able to be as effective as I'd like to be."
Hershelman on staying close to Newark in the first half after the Yellow Jackets' first touchdown:
"It would have been easy for us to hang our heads and say, 'Aw Newark, here they go, they're going to run off 40 points on us'. But nobody quit and that's all you can ask for. We came right back at them and scored. I was very pleased. We knew they were a good team and if you don't play well, you're going to get blown out. We were in this game all the way."
Hershelman on Newark's dominance in the second half:
"It was a case of them wearing us down. We had a few injuries. They're jsut a great team. They've got great size. They play hard the whole game."
Hershelman on the team's seniors:
"For the seniors it was a great year. We said from Day One that we wanted to go to the tournament. We went to the tournament and now we're at the state championship. Guys played great. We've got a few seniors that don't play but they never quit or said, 'Oh, I should be starting'. They backed us up the whole way and we didn't have any controversy on the team and that helps a lot."
Newark head coach Butch Simpson on the effort from underdog Sussex Central:
"I think everything is matchups. Through the years I've gotten away from (conmparing) scores. In high school it's about matchups and what really created some sleepless nights this week for me is Sussex Central's athletes. Sussex Central earned the right to be here by beating teams, and good teams. That's a team that should be very proud of its season."
Simpson on the Yellow Jackets' domination of the clock in the second half:
"We wanted to keep the ball out of the hands of the people who could make things happen. When Hershelman was hurt, that gave us an advantage because it took away some things that they do. People say we're a big play team, but we can be physical, too. We are a physical team."
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