After winning only one game over a team with a winning record during their ascension atop the Southern Henlopen Conference ranks this season, the Delmar Wildcats proved that they’re a legitimate Division II contender after dispatching the Hodgson Silver Eagles 27-12 behind timely passing by quarterback Alan Preston in the opening round of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association state football tournament on Nov. 17.
Preston engineered the Wildcats to consecutive touchdown drives midway through the second half on 13- and 30-yard touchdown passes to split end Kerry King to end the offensive squalor by both teams.
To that point, both teams had traded first quarter turnovers and combined for only one first down but Wildcats linebacker Justin Thomas made up for his fumble earlier in the game with a fumble recovery deep inside Hodgson’s territory to give his team just enough room to maneuver, as well as the lead and the momentum throughout the game.
Preston followed up a 9-yard scamper by running back Jenson Dennard with completions to Dennard and then capped it on a 13-yard touchdown pass to King on a fade route to the corner of the end zone.
“Hodgson was a little bigger and a little stronger (along the defensive front) than we thought they’d be and they did a good job stopping our run. But when they committed so much toward stopping our run, it opened up the offense to our passing game,” Delmar head coach David Hearn said.
Delmar had only 45 first-half rushing yards, but as the game went on the Wildcats coaching staff was able get a better results by mixing the play calling.
On their next drive Delmar ran the ball five times for 19 yards — not including a 25-yard Thomas touchdown run negated because of illegal motion — and completed three of four passes for 53 yards and a touchdown, cementing a 14-0 halftime lead.
Marquis Leatherbury then took the first play from scrimmage of the second half 68-yards, to give the Wildcats a 21-0 advantage.
Hodgson answered back with a fourth-down, 15-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Terrell Johnson and then converted a one-yard touchdown run after recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. It pulled the Silver Eagles within nine, but a Dennard interception at midfield thwarted the drive midway through the fourth quarter.
Preston rallied behind his offensive line and completed four of eight passes for 43 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Poole for the Wildcats’ eventual game-winning 27-12 opening-round score.
“The offensive line blocked all day long,” Preston said. “I couldn’t have asked for better protection, and our receivers are good at catching balls and running with them.”
“All I have to do is put them there,” he concluded.
Outside linebacker Kerry Campbell caught two of Preston’s passes on the Wildcats’ final scoring drive, despite battling a deep bone bruise on his right hand for the past couple of weeks.
“Kerry’s been playing with a lot of pain the past couple of weeks,” Hearn said. “And he’s a big part of what we need to do if we’re going to win this thing.”
Campbell, along with the rest of the Wildcat defense, shut down the Silver Eagles wide running game and limited them to only 45 rushing yards all game.
Hodgson running back Deveon Smith rattled off runs of 17, 5 and 10 yards on their first two drives, but Delmar shut them down.
Preston finished the game with 118 passing yards on 10-20 passing and three touchdowns, and was complimented by 106 second-half rushing yards from Leatherbury.
Delmar will travel up-state to play the 2005 defending state champion Caravel Buccaneers in the semi-finals on Nov. 25.