Mistakes in Opener
Delmar 35, Chopticon (Md.) 22
Photos: Delmar running back Vince Stewart had a big night in his first game as a starter.
The Delmar High School football team collected its 24th consecutive win to start its 2002 campaign, but it wasn't the kind of victory the two-time defending state champions or their fans have become accustomed to.
The Wildcats, overcoming a number of mistakes including a kickoff return for a touchdown, held on for a 35-22 non-conference victory over visiting Chopticon (Md.) thanks to a pair of interceptions by Laurel transfer Tyler Downes in the fourth quarter.
Delmar had taken a 28-6 lead on the first drive of the second half, but Chopticon closed to within 28-22 in the fourth period and had the ball on Delmar's 20 with a chance to tie or take the lead.
A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty pushed Chopticon back to its 35, however, and Downes came up with the first of his interceptions on the next play. Delmar then punched the ball in on a 28-yard run by running back Vince Stewart to go up 35-22 with 2:39 remaining, and Downes sealed the matter when he intercepted a tipped pass on Chopticon's next drive.
"It's nice to get that first one under your belt, no matter how you get it," said Delmar head coach Dave Hearn, whose club pummeled Chopticon 48-13 last season. "I was pretty pleased overall, but I had the feeling our kids felt disappointed about their performance, that it wasn't a running clock or a 40-point win. I told them you just can't do that every game. Chopticon was also much better than we anticipated."
The Wildcats, who gave up only 4.1 points a game last year, surrendered the most points they have given up since a 39-6 loss to Sussex Central in the 2000 season-opener -- their last loss. Hearn, however, was quick to note that one Chopticon touchdown came on a kickoff return and another came on a 30-yard pass following a Delmar turnover in its own territory.
"Some of that was them and we also turned the ball over and put ourselves in that position," said Hearn. "But we misjudged their running back. It was the same guy from last year but he was a different runner. Last year when we made contact he went down, but this year he ran over people and finished his runs real well. We had our hands full with him and it took a toll on us physically."
Hearn was most pleased with the performances of quarterback John Ellis and running back Vince Stewart, both of whom stepped into starting roles this season.
Stewart led the Wildcats with 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Ellis, who missed most of last year with an injury, completed 7 of 11 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yard strike to end Demeris Cannon that gave Delmar a 21-6 lead with just 11 seconds left in the first half.
"When we scored right before the half, that was an opportunity for us to go in on a high and for them to go in on a low," said Hearn. "Although we didn't play great, we were the superior team in the first half. When it was 28-6, that was an opportunity for them to quit, but they did not. When it was 28-22, things tightened up a little bit. I could feel a little tingling."
The Wildcats scored first on a 12-yard run by Stewart just 8 seconds into the second quarter, but Chopticon came right back on a 95-yard kickoff return by Jacob Miller to pull within 7-6.
Delmar went ahead 14-6 on a 29-yard pass from Ellis to Shaun McClain with 5:08 left in the half, and the Wildcats seemed to have matters in control when Ellis connected with Cannon just before halftime.
The outcome seemed to be decided midway through the third period when Stewart ripped off a 5-yard scoring run for a 28-6 advantage with 6:44 left in the quarter.
Unlike last year, however, Chopticon came back with a touchdown in the third quarter on a 22-yard pass from Brock Virts to Jason Kramer and a touchdown with 7:01 left in the game on a 48-yard pass from Virts to Jacob Miller.
The Wildcats finished the game with 345 total yards.
"Afterwards, after the intensity of the game is over, I think it was a good experience for the first time out with a lot of guys in new positions," said Hearn. "It was good for us. It got our feet wet. It was a good, tough ball-game."
Delmar faces a stern early-season test at St. Elizabeth on Friday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. St. Elizabeth lost to Middletown in last year's Division II state semifinals and lost to Delmar in the state championship game in 2000.
Hearn said he scouted the Vikings in their season-opening win on Thursday, Sept. 5, and thought that his squad and St. E's had similar first-game jitters, even though the Vikings pulled away in the second half of their 44-6 victory over Mt. Pleasant.
Junior running back Joe Barbato led St. E's in that win with 150 yards and two touchdowns rushing and an interception.
"We made a lot of silly mistakes," said Hearn of his team's season-opener, "first-game mistakes, sloppy mistakes. We were sloppy. Maybe we were a little over-excited at the beginning. I'm sure most teams are."
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