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Previews of Sussex County High School football games

Division II State Tournament ...

Raiders Ready
for Tourney
Middletown (8-2)
vs. Woodbridge (10-0)
Saturday, Nov. 27, 1999, 7 p.m.
at Seaford High School
Middletown-Woodbridge Preview ...

Woodbridge football practice

Photo: Woodbridge head football coach John Parker (right), named the Henlopen Conference's coach of the year, hands the ball off during defensive drills Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1999.

Woodbridge High School football coach John Parker could accept the underdog role as his team compiled a 10-0 record, won the Henlopen Conference Southern Division championship, and earned a Division II state tournament berth.

After all, those were all things the Blue Raiders had never before accomplished.

But now, the second-year head coach, who has taken his team from the depths of two consecutive 1-9 seasons to a first round state tournament game against two-time defending state champion Middletown, is growing weary of the Cinderella label.

"We had a great season and went 10-0, so perhaps they should be worrying about us," said Parker of the Cavaliers, who enter the 7 p.m. game at Seaford on Saturday, Nov. 27, with an 8-2 record. "How's that for a different angle? We certainly have some personnel who should worry them some."

In every game this season, Parker and the Blue Raiders have had something to prove -- not necessarily to themselves, but to everyone else.

The questions have only intensified as Saturday's game against Middletown and its storied program near.

  • How can Woodbridge, the state's smallest school with only 400 students, compete with a school like Middletown, with 1,200 students?

  • How will the Blue Raiders react to their first state tournament appearance, against a Middletown program that in the 1990s has qualified for five state tournaments and won the last two?

  • How will Woodbridge's stingy defense fare against a Middletown team that features the state's co-offensive player of the year in 1998 and this season has routed Delmar and Smyrna, 41-0 and 55-6, respectively? (Woodbridge beat those teams 21-12 and 19-0)

  • Woodbridge is 10-0, but everyone is still wondering: Are the Raiders really in Middletown's league?

The answers will come Saturday night and the Raiders, the only unbeaten team in the Division II field, figure to be a bit testy.

Besides the above questions, they have suffered the indignity of not hosting the game on their own field despite earning the No. 1 seed because their stadium was deemed unsuitable for a tournament game.

Despite being the only unbeaten team in the Division II tournament, despite outscoring their opponents 245-46 this season, and despite posting 7 shutouts, they are ranked 7th in the state while the Cavaliers, the Blue Hen Conference Flight B champions, are ranked 4th.

"I feel we can play with just about anybody," said Parker, who guided Sussex Tech over Middletown in the 1993 state title game. "I don't know if everyone in the state gives us enough credit for being the size school we are and what we've accomplished, particularly this year."

The Raiders have established their reputation this season with defense. In their seven shutouts, the opposition rarely even threatened to score.

The only teams to have any success offensively were Laurel, which Woodbridge beat 21-20 in overtime on Nov. 12 to clinch the Henlopen South title and tournament berth, and Delmar, which the Raiders beat 21-12 on Nov. 19.

Co-captain and linebacker Adam Hickman and middle linebacker Corey Sanders lead the defense. Sanders recorded 132 tackles this season while Hickman registered another 101.

Hickman, defensive end Chris Horsey, defensive back Jason Rust and Sanders were all named first team all-conference while defensive back Andre Cannon was named to the second team. Bo McDowell, C.J. Pitts and Jamil Young have also made big defensive plays this season.

The offense, save for fast starts in most games, has been inconsistent but has still averaged 24.5 points a game.

Rust, the Raiders' quarterback and other co-captain, and Pitts, a first team all-conference selection at tailback, pace the offense, but first team all-conference wide receiver Jeremy Maddox is a threat as a receiver and kick returner. Rust was named second-team all-conference quarterback and has sparked the Raiders with his passing and running.

Rust has passed for 800 yards and four touchdowns and run for four more touchdowns, Pitts has rushed for 980 yards and 12 touchdowns, and Maddox has caught 32 passes for 560 yards and five TDs.

"In big games like this, whether it's Pop Warner, high school, college or the NFL, your big players have to make big plays," said Parker. "If our big players make big plays, we'll be successful."

Middletown has not been the invincible juggernaut that terrorized the state the past two seasons. The Cavaliers lost two games this season, 21-20 to Salesianum and 14-13 to Archmere, when they failed to convert two-point attempts late in both games.

Still, they represent a formidable opponent with running back Brandon Brown, the state's co-offensive player of the year last season, leading them to four straight wins to close out the regular season.

Brown was hampered by a pulled hamstring that limited his effectiveness against Salesianum and Archmere but has run for 1,000 yards. His best performance was a 194-yard outburst against Smyrna.

Quarterback Matt Keen has thrown for 486 yards and 8 touchdowns in leading an offense that averages more than 30 points a game. Fullback J.C. Morgan is an effective runner and blocker for a Cavalier offense that has seen a half-dozen players score touchdowns in a couple of games this season.

Statistically, the Cavaliers have three running backs with more than 500 yards rushing. Brown has run for 1,153 yards and 12 TDs, Morgan has run for 565 yards and nine TDs and averages 10 yards a carry, and Rausheen Lively has rushed for more than 500 yards.

The Cavaliers are also a tough defensive team as witnessed by their four shutouts. Defensive end Derek Perry recorded five sacks in a win over Glasgow and Shawn Tolson ran a fumble back 60 yards for a touchdown in a win over Howard. In the Howard game, the defense forced three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

"There will be two teams on the field," said Parker. "What happened last year really isn't relevant this year. Obviously they have a tradition of playing in big games. There are all kinds of things you can look at, but we've both had great seasons."

Woodbridge Practice Photos ...

Woodbridge defensive coach Bill Isaacs

Woodbridge head coach John Parker
Gearing Up

The Woodbridge High School football team practiced in the fog Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, 1999, in preparation for its first round Division II state tournament game against Middletown on Saturday, Nov. 27.

In the top photo, assistant coach Mark Isaacs makes a point to the Blue Raider defense. In the bottom photo, head coach John Parker (with clipboard) sets up a Middletown play for the practice team to run against the first team defense.

Game Notes ...

  • While Woodbridge has never been to the state tournament, its head coach, John Parker has. He was head coach of the 1993 Sussex Tech team that beat Middletown 27-14 for the Division II state championship.

  • Middletown is trying to become the first team in state history to win three consecutive state championships. Newark, in the Division I tournament, it also trying to make it three straight this year.

  • Tale of the Tape -- Middletown has the size advantage in both lines. Its offensive line averages 215 pounds to the 205.75 pounds of Woodbridge's defensive line. The Cavaliers' defensive line averages 220 pounds to the 208 pounds of Woodbridge's offensive line.

  • Middletown would have the advantage in a game of attrition as Woodbridge plays six players both ways while Middletown plays only three both ways.

  • Woodbridge has four seniors in its starting lineups while Middletown has eight.

  • Middletown has qualified for 10 state tournaments going back to 1971. Besides the last two state titles, the Cavaliers also won the 1979 Division II crown. They lost to Sussex Tech in the Division II state finals in 1993.

Division II Results ...

Middletown 9, St. Elizabeth 7

A 25-yard field goal by placekicker Luke Billings midway through the fourth quarter gave Middletown an unprecedented third straight Division II title. The Cavaliers, who defeated Woodbridge in the semifinals, finished the season at 10-2 overall. Billings' field goal was the first of his career. Middletown took a 6-0 lead in the second period on a 47-yard run by fullback J.C. Morgan. St. Elizabeth, which finished 8-4, took the lead into halftime on a 6-yard run by Shane McCollum and extra point kick by Roy Hoskins. Standout Middletown running back Brandon Brown gained 132 yards on the ground while Morgan added 90.

St. Elizabeth 22, Caravel 0

St. Elizabeth blanked Caravel Academy 22-0 in the other Division II first round game on Friday, Nov. 26, to earn a spot in next week's state championship game against the winner of the Woodbridge-Middletown game on Saturday. St. Elizabeth last appeared in the state finals in 1996, when it beat Delmar 20-14 in overtime to claim the crown. The Vikings lost to Caravel 14-6 just two weeks ago but dominated the tournament game with 235 yards rushing to Caravel's 11 and 16 first downs to Caravel's 2. Running back Scott Fletcher led the Viking assault with 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns. St. E improved to 8-3 while Caravel finished its season at 8-3.

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