First State Berth
'Just Another Game'
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Photos: Captains Blake Hershelman (19) and George Davis (25) have led the Sussex Central football program to its first state tournament berth ever. Wide receiver Andrew Weatherly (11) has been the Knights' best big-play threat.
GEORGETOWN -- It has taken 25 years for the Sussex Central High School football program to reach this point, 25 years to finally qualify for the Delaware Division I state football tournament.
And now that they're here, the Golden Knights don't want to blow this rare opportunity with an early exit.
The Knights, at 9-1, host 9-1 Dover on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2000, in a first round Division I game between two teams that have no playoff experience.
Dover won the 1988 state championship, but none of the current Senators were around then. Sussex Central, on the other hand, has NEVER played a game beyond Thanksgiving.
"They're actually taking it like a normal week," said Sussex Central head coach John Wells, asked about his players' reaction to their first state tournament game. "They're not doing anything different as far as the approach.
"We're being real careful, though. You can get too emotional about it and go out there and tense up. We want to approach it like a regular game. It's still the same. It's four quarters. It's still 10 yards for a first down. The same principles apply to winning a football game as they did before. Don't turn the ball over, block well, tackle well, execute, and good things will happen to a football team no matter what the game is."
The Golden Knights handily defeated Dover, 26-7, in their regular season encounter on Oct. 20. That would seem to give the Knights the upper hand in this weekend's game, but Wells said Dover is a different team than the club the Knights faced then.
The Senators, in fact, knocked off a Caesar Rodney team last week that beat Sussex Central 21-10 just two weeks before.
"They've (Senators) done some things different," said Wells. "They've lost a couple of kids to eligibility. They're running a little more power running game the last two games after we played them than they have before, so defensively we're going to do some things differently there. Three weeks later, they're a little different and so are we. You'll see some adjustments by both teams."
The Golden Knights will need to adjust for the loss of senior halfback Yoree Washington, who will miss the playoffs for academic reasons.
Washington rushed for 604 yards on 96 carries this season and provided a nice outside compliment to senior George Davis' slashing runs between the tackles. He had a huge game against Dover during the regular season with 132 yards on 17 carries.
Washington will be replaced by J.J. Ricketts, who posted a 6.3-yard per carry average during the regular season with 277 yards on 44 carries. Ricketts rushed for 43 yards on 8 carries in the first Dover game.
Davis, meanwhile, put together his third consecutive 1,000-yard season with 1,189 yards on 159 carries despite missing the equivalent of two games with an ankle injury.
Quarterback Blake Hershelman keys the Knight offense with his passing and running. Hershelman rushed for 411 yards and 9 touchdowns on 57 carries. He completed 48 of 75 passes for 849 yards with 12 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions.
Hershelman struggled in the first meeting against Dover with a 1-for-6 performance, but his one completion went for a 70-yard touchdown to sophomore split end Andrew Weatherly.
Weatherly was the team's leading receiver with 14 catches for 406 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and totalled 158 yards on 5 rushing attempts.
Tight end Jesse Makowski is also a threat with a 21.8 yard average per reception.
Defensively, the Knights have allowed only 8.8 points a game. Lineman Jack Roach, linebacker Teddy Thompson and strong safety Blake Hershelman lead the defense.
Dover, meanwhile, has been led all season by running back Pierre Bowers. Bowers rushed for 172 yards against the Knights in the Oct. 20 meeting, but was contained somewhat after stunning the Knights with a 68-yard touchdown run on the Senators' first possession.
The Senators also rely on sophomore quarterback Collins Evans and split end Jason Lilly.
The Knights controlled the Oct. 20 game after Bowers' opening run and finished with 409 yards of total offense to Dover's 213.
Photos: Defensive end Orlando Farrow has been one of the reasons Sussex Central's defense has only allowed 8.8 points per game. Sussex Central lineman Jake Booth (50) has helped the Knight offensive line dominate opposing teams.
Sussex Central head coach John Wells on his players' reaction to their first state tournament:
"They're actually taking it like a normal week. They're not doing anything different as far as the approach. We're being real careful, though. You can get too emotional about it and go out there and tense up. We want to approach it like a regular game. It's still the same. It's four quarters. It's still 10 yards for a first down. The same principles apply to winning a football game as they did before. Don't turn the ball over, block well, tackle well, execute, and good things happen to a football team no matter what the game is. We're trying to take the same approach with a normal Monday practice, Tuesday do the same thing, Wednesday ... we're treating it as a normal week in the season. Yeah, there's a little more excitement, yeah, there's a little more hitting going on, the boys are a little amped up, but as far as our approach, we're not going to change anything."
Wells on the advantages or disadvantages of playing Dover, a team the Knights have already beaten:
"I don't think, right now in the tournament, that it matters. Maybe they think they've got the psychological edge. In most sports, at any level, it's tough to beat any team twice. But you've got to look at the state tournament as a win or go home type deal, so our guys aren't looking at it as, 'Oh, we beat them before.' That's not our philosophy, that's not our approach. They're going after them like they would any other game, no matter who they're playing this week."
Wells on whether the teams will do anything different since their regular season meeting on Oct. 20:
"They've (Senators) done some things different. They've lost a couple of kids to eligibility. So obviously there will be some different things that both teams will be trying to do. They're running a little more power running game the last two games after we played them than they have before, so defensively we're going to do some things differently there. Three weeks later they're a little different and so are we. You'll see some adjustments by both teams."
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