The Eagles clawed their way to a crucial Henlopen Conference Northern Division win tonight, taking an 8-0 lead at the half and pulling away for a 28-0 triumph.

The Smyrna High football team knocked the Sussex Tech Ravens on their heels early, then made a key stop before halftime on the way to a 28-0 home win tonight.

On the opening kickoff, the Eagles surprised the Ravens with a hard kick by Ryan Macfarlane right at the Ravens' front line. The ball bounced off a Raven, and the Eagles recovered at their own 42-yard line.

Sophomore Nick Richardson started at quarterback for Smyrna in place of Aidan Sanchez who was injured last week against Salesianum.

Richardson led a quick drive down the field with a 10-yard pass to Devin Smith, followed by a 14-yard connection with Makhi Jackson and then 13-yard pass to Devin Demoe. After a completion but a short loss, Richardson connected on his fifth pass in a row for a 24-yard touchdown to Demoe. Wayne Knight ran for the two-point conversion, and the Eagles led 8-0 just over two minutes into the game.

But while the game started with offensive fireworks, it turned into a defensive struggle the rest of the half.

The teams traded punts, and Sussex Tech intercepted a pass to stop a Smyrna drive and held the Eagles on a fourth-and-one play to end another drive.

With 3:56 left in the half, the Ravens picked off another pass on Smyrna's 37. After picking up a first down on an offsides penalty, the Ravens had the ball at Smyrna's 25 with 1:19 to play in the second quarter.

On  third-and-10, the Ravens' quarterback launched a pass toward the end zone, but Smyrna senior Thomas Smith leaped and intercepted the ball at the one-yard line.

"I saw the ball was coming my way and I just tried to go up and make a play," said Smith. "That was my first interception."

He said he's proud of the team and the shutout.

"That's what we work for. That was big," Smith said.

Smyrna's offense was able to run out the clock, and the Eagles carried momentum and an 8-0 lead into the half.

Smyrna head coach Mike Judy said Smith's pick-off gave the team a huge lift at halftime.

"That's the hardest thing to do in football is defend in man coverage with no help," said Judy. "He did a great job to position himself and basically ran the route with the receiver. He's done a great job in practice and then tonight, under the lights, when the pressure was on, he came through for us."

The Eagles' offense started the second half almost like the first -- only better. After the Ravens' kickoff sailed out of bounds, the Eagles took over at their own 39. Richardson threw a quick pass to Knight who raced to the Sussex Tech 22. Then on the next play, Richardson connected with Jackson for a touchdown just 49 seconds into the third quarter. The two-point conversion run failed, but Smyrna led 14-0.

Judy said Richardson played well in a big game under difficult circumstances, taking over after Sanchez was injured last week.

"I could see him going through his progressions and I could see him playing with more and more confidence as the game went on," said Judy. "It's always tough when a player is hurt and you hate to see that, but a big part of sports is stepping up when you get the opportunity, and I'm really happy for him and really happy with the way he played."

On Sussex Tech's next possession, Smyrna's defense pushed the Ravens backwards and sacked the quarterback on third down to force a punt.

The Eagles took over on the Sussex Tech 45. Richardson threw to Knight for five yards and then connected with Jackson on a 25-yard play to the 15.

On the next play, Richardson threw a quick pass to Devin Smith who raced down the sideline for an apparent touchdown, but there was a flag on the play. After the referees talked for a few minutes, they waved off the flag and the touchdown stood. The two-point conversion pass was intercepted, but the Eagles led 20-0 with 7:43 left in the third quarter.

On Sussex Tech's next drive, Smyrna's defense forced a fumble, recovered by Masen Wilson at the Sussex Tech 34. But the Ravens' defense stiffened and held the Eagles on four straight plays.

Then Smyrna's defense forced a punt, but the Ravens' defense responded with an interception with 2:13 left in the third quarter.

The Ravens drove to Smyrna's 34-yard line, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, their fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

Smyrna took over and moved the ball down the field with a mix of passes and runs, but stalled on a fourth-and-eight play at the Sussex Tech 21-yard line with 8:06 left in the game.

The Eagles' defense came up big again, including a sack by Espie Hart, and the Ravens punted with 5:36 to play.

Smyrna shifted to a tight formation to run the ball and run out the clock, picking up a few first downs before Knight burst through the defense for a 25-yard touchdown with 47.4 seconds left.

Then Debo Williams, Smyrna's stand-out linebacker, put the finishing touches on the win, running the ball for the two-point conversion for the 28-0 final score.

Judy said Williams anchors Smyrna's defense, leads by example and is "one of the best players I've ever had in my 20 years of coaching."

"The players know how hard he works and how hard he plays and they respect him," said Judy. "He's a leader on the field and when we need it, he's there to correct, corral and encourage the players."

NEXT GAME: The Eagles, now 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Northern Division, face another division opponent, Dover, on the road Friday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.