The Sussex County Warhawks hurdled an obstacle by defeating the Wilmington Raiders 9-0 on April 9, continuing their convoluted playoff push.
Having handily defeated the Raiders, the Warhawks now have a clearer picture of what must happen to make the playoffs: beat the Kent County Fire on April 16 and beat the Talbot Co. Warriors on April 23 — and the New Castle Saints must beat the Raiders.
Having played a close game with the Raiders earlier in the season, head coach Butch Yocum was confident that his Warhawks would redeem their earlier defeat by a more than necessary sum.
Everything lined up for the big game — at least on paper — but quarterback Jason Rust missed the game for reasons unknown, causing a huge void at the team’s most important offensive position. With few options available, Yocum suited up to fill in for the absent quarterback, but with limited effectiveness.
With their regular quarterback out in left field somewhere, Yocum hoped to control the ball on the ground and limit his team’s pass attempts to get the victory. The Warhawks’ offense was very ineffective, rushing for 75 yards on 23 attempts and completing only one pass, for 5 yards, on eight passes.
Yocum threw one interception and was sacked three times by Raiders defenders. The pressure applied by the Raiders and unfamiliarity with the center forced Yocum to botch a couple snaps, resulting in turnovers deep within their own territory.
“Jason and I have different cadences, and we weren’t on the same page as far as snap count goes,” said Yocum.
A frustrated Yocum replaced himself in the third quarter with former Arena League quarterback and current tight end Tony Eskridge.
“It was really hard to call the plays and play quarterback, so I threw Tony in there. I had a hard time seeing the whole field,” said Yocum.
The Raiders had the ball deep in Warhawk territory four times during the game but were thwarted by the defense.
“With Jason out, we knew that it was all on us to get the win,” said standout linebacker Tremond Conway.
The Warhawks ball-hawking yielded five sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one safety, but none of that would have been possible without the epicenter of their team: Conway.
At the middle-linebacker position, Conway is able to run sideline-to-sideline and has the speed and agility to track down almost any player. Conway was awarded Player of the Game honors by league commissioner Bob Hall for collecting 8.5 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Conway usually makes plays behind the line of scrimmage, but he may have made the play of the game when he snared a Raider pass, one-handed, as he dropped back to open zone deep in Warhawk territory.
“The quarterback was looking at the receiver the whole way, and I read his eyes to the play,” said Conway.
That play set up what became the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, after safety David Nocks recovered a fumbled punt deep in Raider territory.
The Warhawks ran the ball four straight times before running back/cornerback Darnell Strand punched in a three-yard touchdown to put his team over the 5-point mark, bringing them one step closer to the playoffs.
Strand just missed a 26-yard field goal before the half. That kick would have put the Warhawks up by 6 points, but they never let the deficit bother them.
“Tremond is our heart and soul of the team, and we fed off of his energy. Our defense is playing really strong, and the Warhawks are definitely coming to knock some heads,” said defensive end Albert Haynes.
The Warhawks will definitely be hungry for a second victory this season over the Kent County Fire when they play at Rehoboth Elementary at 11 a.m. on April 16. With only two games left, the 3-3 Warhawks can already see their chances.
“I have no doubt-you’ll see us in the playoffs,” said Conway.