High School Football
at Woodbridge (4-0, 8-0)
Photos: Laurel running back Titus Mims (top) and Woodbridge head coach John Parker.
BRIDGEVILLE -- One team has been perfect all season, the other inconsistent. Despite how they got here, either team can walk away with a Henlopen Conference Southern Division football championship and an automatic Division II state tournament berth when Laurel visits Woodbridge at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 12, 1999.
The Blue Raiders of Woodbridge hope to extend their fairy tale of a season with a win over a Laurel team that has resurrected what at one time looked like a disastrous 1999 campaign.
The Raiders enter the game ranked 7th in the state behind a stalwart defense that has shut out 7 of its 8 opponents this season. At 4-0 in the South and 8-0 overall, a win in the 7:30 p.m. contest would give the smallest school in the state its first Southern Division championship and Division II state tournament berth.
Laurel, meanwhile, has recovered nicely from an 0-3 start to amazingly put itself in the same position as Woodbridge -- win Friday night and claim the South crown and state tournament berth.
"This is what every team in the state starts out playing for in September, to have a meaningful game in November with playoff ramifications," said Laurel coach Paul Kmetz. "Our guys realize this has been a dream season for Woodbridge and most people who aren't attached to either team are rooting for Woodbridge.
"We were upstate this week (8-6 loss to Hodgson on Nov. 6) and people who don't know anything about downstate football were coming up and saying what a wonderful story Woodbridge is. Well, there is a group of guys in Laurel who want to make their own story. They're not intimidated by everyone in Sussex County rooting for the other team. They won't be intimidated by everybody feeling they're not the better of the two teams. They're drawing upon that."
The Bulldogs shouldn't take things personally. Everyone loves Cinderella, and Woodbridge has played the role to perfection in 1999 after consecutive 1-9 campaigns in 1998 and 1997.
Head coach John Parker has built a defensive juggernaut that simply stops offenses dead in their tracks. With the exception of Lake Forest capitalizing on a couple of Woodbridge mistakes for touchdowns, no one else has even come close to scoring against the Raiders.
And they appear to be getting better as the season progresses, if last week's 24-0 walloping of Milford is any indication. In that game, the Blue Raiders held Milford's ground game, led by scatbacks Vincent Leggins and Robbie Drummond, to minus-2 yards rushing. The Bucs had just 15 total yards for the game.
It has simply been one of the most dominating performances by a defense in the state's history, and Parker believes it will be ready to meet a Laurel offense that prides itself on ball control and long drives with running backs Titus Mims and Mike Snead running behind a powerful offensive line.
"It (Laurel) will certainly be a challenge," said Parker. "I think the kid from Smyrna (Mike Pennewell) had 920-some yards when we played Smyrna and we held him down. Jeron Handy from Seaford has been tearing things up and we held him down. Last week it was Drummond and Leggins. Laurel is certainly a threat with their guys and we'll have to play at that same level, but I think we're up to the task of playing well defensively."
Other than their records, the two teams are fairly similar. Both like to run the ball offensively but can hurt you with the pass. Both play tough defense. The major difference may be the types of games they've played. Laurel has played mostly close games, while Woodbridge has generally blown their opponents out.
"We've been in a lot of tough games," said Kmetz. "Being a conservative type of team usually leads to games that are decided in the fourth quarter against quality opponents. That's where your character comes through, and I think for the most part, our kids have shown good character."
The Raiders are led offensively by quarterback Jason Rust, running backs C.J. Pitts and Corey Sanders, and wide receiver Jeremy Maddox. Pitts averages about 85 yards a game rushing, while Maddox has hauled in most of Rust's nearly 800 passing yards.
Parker said freshman Jamil Young, a 5-10, 185-pound running back, will likely see a few more carries against Laurel. Young has been a standout on defense with 5 interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Parker also singled out Bo McDowell and Adam Hickman on defense. "Bo has been unblockable at times," said Parker.
But mostly, Parker credits the team's four seniors -- Rust, Pitts, Sanders and Hickman -- for the team's improbable turnaround.
"We tried to establish a program this year and I have to give the seniors the credit," said Parker. "They've left a tradition behind them that maybe some of these underclassmen can work hard to maintain. That's the sort of legacy these seniors are leaving behind to this community and school."
Laurel counters with a ball control offense powered by a big offensive line and the slashing running of Titus Mims and Mike Snead. Mims is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing this season and Snead has rushed for 400 yards. Mims can pile up big numbers in a hurry as evidenced by his 268-yard, 3-touchdown performance in a 41-32 win over Delmar earlier in the season.
Quarterback Shawn Powell keeps defenses honest. He has thrown for 5 touchdown passes this season. His favorite targets are tight end Hakeem Williams, wide receiver Derek Conaway, and John Small.
The Bulldogs have as much talent as anyone, but mistakes cost them dearly in their 0-3 start.
"It's no secret we have to make no turnovers or costly penalties," said Kmetz. "In any big game, turnovers and costly penalties and mistakes usually make the difference in the game."
Parker would like to see his offense become more consistent throughout the course of a game. But, with that defense, who needs much of an offense?
"This has been a neat experience so far and I hope it continues," said Parker. "The people in the community are very excited, as well they should be. This (a win against Laurel) would just be a little icing on the cake. We've had the school's best season ever, and if we finish it up and put a little exclamation point at the end, it will be even better."
Copyright © 1999 Sussex County Online