Game of the Week
Sussex Central Rips
District Rival IR
Sussex County Online
Photo: Sussex Central head coach John Wells charges up the troops at halftime of his team's 31-0 win over Indian River on Friday, Sept. 17, 1999.
FRANKFORD -- In the last six quarters, the Sussex Central High School football team has outscored its opponents 61-0.
But they haven't truly impressed their head coach, John Wells, yet ...
"You have the potential to be a Top 5 team in the state," Wells told his club following its 31-0 victory over district rival Indian River -- Wells' alma mater -- on Friday, Sept. 17, 1999. "But right now you're not even playing like a Top 15 or 20 team."
Wells wasn't so much degrading his team's performance in its first two games, which included a 30-24 comeback win over Delmar after trailing 24-0 in the first half on Friday, Sept. 10.
He was, more than anything, trying to project how the Knights would have fared against Henlopen Conference Northern Division heavyweights like Cape Henlopen, Dover and Caesar Rodney if they had been playing them instead of Delmar and Indian River from the smaller school Southern Division.
"I told the kids they're good but not unbeatable," said Wells. "If we go through the Northern Division and play like this, we'll get beaten and beaten soundly. They have a lot of potential, but they can't be content."
Mistakes -- fumbles, penalties and missed assignments -- bothered Wells most. The Knights fumbled twice against Indian River but only lost one. They also committed three penalties at critical junctures in drives that Wells believes would have cost the Knights dearly against more experienced, more powerful teams.
"This is still a young team," said Wells. "They have to remember that they have to keep getting better every day. It doesn't matter who's the best now. What matters is who has improved and is the best in the 8th, 9th, 10th games."
Certainly, Wells' defense has improved. After surrendering 24 points and looking helpless in the first 18 minutes against Delmar last Friday night, Sussex Central hasn't surrendered a single point in the last 6 1/2 quarters. The Knights allowed Indian River only 75 total yards of offense, including just 29 in the second half.
Indian River gained nearly half of its total yards on an impressive opening drive to start the game but Sussex Central's Blake Hershelman intercepted a pass by IR's Joey Land to stop that threat at Sussex Central's 28. The Indians wouldn't threaten again.
The Knight offense, meanwhile, started slowly as it was forced to punt after only three plays on its first drive. But then Indian River made the game's most critical mistake by losing a fumble on its own 11-yard line. Four plays later, Hershelman dove in from two yards out and Jeff Tharp's extra point kick made it 7-0 with 10:44 left in the first half.
Following an IR punt, the Knights rumbled 58 yards, including a 22-yard pass from Hershelman to running back Burless Hall, to take a 13-0 lead on Hall's 3-yard touchdown run.
The Indians looked like a beaten team after that drive and the Knights pretty much had their way with them from that point.
Sussex Central scored in the second half on a 24-yard touchdown run by running back George Davis, on a 35-yard field goal by Tharp, and on a screen pass from Hershelman that Jesse Makowski grabbed and turned into an 82-yard touchdown play.
After a disappointing passing performance in the opener against Delmar, Hershelman got back on track against Indian River with 125 passing yards. While 82 of those yards came on Makowski's nifty running with a screen pass, the play wouldn't have been possible had Hershelman not escaped a closing Indian pass rush to get the ball off.
"This was a good confidence-builder for me," said Hershelman. "We thought we could pass more on Indian River than Delmar and it was our plan to pass more tonight."
"Last week (Delmar) was disappointing for Blake after the great passing year he had last year," said Wells. "He really wanted to showcase what he can do tonight."
The Knights dominated Indian River with 287 yards of total offense. The victory was an emotional one for Wells, who wants to beat his alma mater but doesn't like to see the Indians play poorly.
Wells, a 1984 Indian River graduate who played under former Indian head coach Dale Steele, is 3-1 against the Indians.
"It's tough to come here," said Wells. "We're having our 15th year reunion in November so I still have a lot of emotional ties here. I still have that old IR Pride and like to see them carry on that tradition."
NOTES: Wells said after the game that Hershelman has been invited by Penn State to its game against Michigan. "They want to see him continue to work out and get bigger," said Wells. "If he does, they say he's a D-1 (NCAA Division I-A) player." ... Despite taking a 13-0 halftime lead, the Knights only had 70 yards total offense to Indian River's 46 in the first half ... Davis led Sussex Central with 51 yards rushing. Reserve Yoree Washington added 41 yards rushing in limited action ... Buster Belote led Indian River with 34 yards on 9 carries ... IR head coach Pat Kelly, seeking to replace graduated four-year starter Shawn Watkins at quarterback, used both senior P.J. Martin and junior Joey Land at quarterback.
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