in Clash of the Titans
Teams' Success in '01
Photos: From top to bottom, Delmar running back Sean Hudson, linemen Josh Farr and Jacob Dattilo, and cornerback Demeris Cannon.
Delmar High School head football coach Dave Hearn turned on the film projector this week and it turned into a mirror.
That was Middletown on the screen alright, but Hearn saw something very similar to his Wildcats.
"The thing that was most outstanding to me was their team speed," said Hearn as he prepared for the 2001 Delaware Division II state championship game against Middletown on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 12:30 p.m. at Delaware State University.
Team speed has been Delmar's strength all season.
Usually "out-sized", the unbeaten Wildcats have defended their 2000 state championship by beating their opponents to the point of attack for an 11-0 record.
Middletown has used its speed to similar advantage, racing to its own 11-0 record in its final season in Division II before moving up to Division I next season. The Cavaliers missed the title game last year after winning three straight state titles from 1997-1999.
"They have team speed both offensively and defensively," said Hearn of the Cavaliers. "They come at you and swarm at you and don't give you a chance to get organized. It will be a matchup of two teams doing very similar things."
Hearn says the Wildcats have approached this year's state championship game differently than last year's due to the experience of having already gone through a championship week.
"It's a different kind of excitement," he said. "It's a more gradual buildup this year. Last year, the whole week seemed like a circus the whole time."
The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 38.9 to 5.2 points per game this season including their 42-16 semifinal victory over Hodgson last week.
The defense has been superb all season, allowing an average of only 3.3 points a game not counting touchdowns scored by opposing defenses and special teams.
The offense has been the team's biggest surprise, though, given its explosiveness despite the graduation losses of last year's star performers, quarterback Dustin Johnson and running back Ian Hudson.
Sean Hudson has filled his older brother Ian's shoes remarkably well with 1,680 yards rushing this season for an incredible 11.6 yards per carry.
He credits his offensive line, which averages just 172 pounds and doesn't have a single player over 200 pounds.
That line of center Travis Hearn (6-11, 165), guards Jacob Dattilo (5-10, 179) and Josh Farr (5-10, 175), and tackles Billy Owens (6-0, 190) and Jay Heater (5-11, 172), has beaten much larger defensive lines all season.
Their performance has paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged 270 yards a game during the regular season and then piled on 304 yards in the semifinal victory over a Hodgson team whose front four averaged 222.5 pounds.
The Wildcats have replaced Johnson with a two-headed quarterback system that keeps opponents off-balance by forcing them to prepare for two very different offensive looks.
That is the case for Middletown this week as Hearn has maintained he hasn't decided whether to start freshman Brandon Hudson or senior John Webster at quarterback Saturday.
Hudson started the last couple of games after Webster suffered an injury but in the semifinal win over Hodgson, Webster replaced Hudson in the second half when Hudson succumbed to dehydration.
Hudson's injury was originally thought to be a concussion because he had been disoriented, but Hearn said the hospital later diagnosed his problem as dehydration on the unusually warm November night.
"He's fine now," said Hearn. "But there's no guarantee on starting him against Middletown. He's gone every game lately, but I'm not sure who's starting. He played well but John came in and played well in the second half last week and that's scattered my brain again. We'll have to see who has the better practice this week."
The choice makes a big difference in Delmar's offense. With Hudson, the Wildcats have another running threat in the backfield as evidenced by Hudson's 37-yard touchdown run against Hodgson last week. With Webster, though, the Wildcats have a better passing attack with ends Michael Hunt and Demeris Cannon.
They will go against a Middletown defense that allowed only 18 points in its first four games but has allowed an average of 13.7 points in the last seven games including its 33-20 win over St. Elizabeth in last weekend's semifinals.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, will face a Middletown offense that has averaged 32.9 points a game and averages 214 pounds across its front line including 6-0, 245-pound senior center Tyler Reynolds and 5-11, 240-pound senior guard Matt Ford.
Hearn's main concern with the Cavaliers, however, is the explosiveness of the skill players, including 6-foot-4 quarterback Mike Potts, 6-4 receiver Shawn Tolson, and running backs Rausheen Lively and Gary Earl.
Lively is the team's most dangerous runner. He rushed for 210 yards against St. E including touchdowns of 55, 21, 16 and 25 yards. His performance helped the Cavaliers to a 384-142 advantage over St. E in rushing yardage.
Potts and Tolson, meanwhile, present a dangerous passing combination because of their height. The task of covering Tolson could fall to Delmar's tallest defender, 6-3 cornerback Demeris Cannon.
Potts and Tolson's biggest game came against Hodgson in a 20-13 win during the regular season. Potts threw for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game with Tolson catching 5 passes for 125 yards and one of the touchdowns.
"They're towers out there for sure," said Hearn. "That's the thing that separates them from other teams. They've very capable of throwing the ball when they have to. If you force them to, they can do it. That's the extra danger we've not dealt with."
Hearn believes that his defense, which has dominated all of its opponents this season, is up to the challenge, though.
"They've reacted to everything we've told them this year," said Hearn. "They're very intelligent kids. They and Dave (defensive coordinator Dave McDowell) have been on the same page all season long. They've handled every challenge we've handed to them. Whether they can handle it physically, we'll find out Saturday."
Middletown's defense is no slouch, either. Its most impressive performance came in a 36-0 win over Smyrna early in the season when it held all-state Smyrna running back Mike Pennewell to minus-4 yards rushing.
"They have no weaknesses that you can find," said Hearn. "if anybody knows one, I'd be glad to entertain suggestions."
Starting lineups in the Delaware Division II state championship football game on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001.
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