During week three of the season a year ago, an upstart Smyrna team traveled to Baynard Stadium in Wilmington, taking on the vaunted Salesianum football program. While they came up short in a shootout game, the Eagles announced their presence to the rest of the state.
Just two months later, the Eagles and Salesianum would meet again, this time with the state title on the line where Smyrna would emerge victorious.
Now, a year later the two teams meet again in a week three battle, this time Salesianum will make the trip south to Smyrna. While last year’s matchup saw one of the most successful and consistent programs in the state taking on a young, up-and-coming program who most weren’t sold on at the time - this year’s matchup may be the most anticipated contest of the 2016 season.
So far this season, the Eagles have been nothing but impressive, earning victories over Delcastle and Appoquinimink by a combined score of 120-16 to start the season 2-0.
The Eagles earned their second win of the year last week, knocking off Appo 64-16.
Smyrna’s offense was its explosive self last Friday night, with several players contributing to the cause. Quarterback Nolan Henderson finished the night with four touchdown passes to Emon Roberts, Will Knight, Leddie Brown and Marcus Vass.
In the backfield, Knight and Brown combined for five scores against Appo. Knight caught a 50-yard screen pass for a touchdown from Henderson in the first and connected with Jamier Smith for a 14-yard half-back pass for a score. Meanwhile, Brown returned a kickoff 96-yards for a touchdown Friday night along with a 41-yard touchdown run and a 25-yard receiving score from Henderson. The two also combined for seven converted two-point tries.
Like the Eagles, Salesianum has been just as impressive in their first two games of the 2016 season, both victories.
First, Sallies earned a hard-fought 16-13 victory over Philadelphia’s Father Judge High School, handing Pennsylvania’s 32nd ranked team it’s first loss of the year. Then, Salesianum followed up their win over Father Judge with a shutout victory over Caesar Rodney last week 24-0.
While no games are won on paper, the Eagles have encountered little resistance in their first two victories. Now, after two blowout victories Smyrna must prepare for a Salesianum team that, without a doubt, has had this week three matchup circled on their calendar.
“This game is going to live up to the hype,” said Smyrna Head Coach Mike Judy. “It will be the third time we’ve faced each other and this game will be a great barometer for where these two teams really are. Our kids will be prepared and focused as usual, and I’m sure there is a good nervousness and excitement for them as we prepare for game week.”
The pedigree Salesianum has established is enough to intimidate the strongest of programs and while the Eagles have turned the tables a bit on Sallies this year, Coach Judy and his team still approach this game as if they’re the team with something left to prove.
“I still believe the pressure lies solely on Salesianum,” said Judy. “Can they afford to lose to little ol’ Smyrna again? For us, we feel we are still looked at as the underdogs in this battle which, for our kids, gives them some extra juice for the game. Coach DiNardo is a legendary coach and his staff will come prepare for what we will be serving up.”
Since this will be the third meeting between the two teams within the last year, both will know the other's tendencies. Nothing either team does against the other Friday night will be a surprise. While some faces in different positions have changed, both teams enter Friday night with a pretty good idea of what the other wants to do.
With that in mind, Judy and his squad are well prepared for Friday night and they suspect Salesianum will come ready to play as well.
“I expect Salesianum to step on the field in typical fashion, run-heavy offense with a smattering of play-action pass,” Judy said. “The difference this meeting is their quarterback is a very talented young man who can and will hurt you passing if we don’t play sound fundamentally. Defensively, they are always one of the toughest, most physical teams in the state, and we look forward to matching that intensity.”