Both teams held 5-0 records coming into Oct. 13’s possible conference-deciding football game, but Delmar and Indian River seem worlds away.
Indian River has averaged 240 rushing yards a game this season. Delmar lost its senior leading rusher Jensen Dennard to a broken arm in Week 3’s 30-14 win over Dover. Dennard averaged 14 yards per carry and 114 yard per game, had four touchdowns and was only 82 yards behind Indian River’s leading rusher Isaiah Phillips (428) through the first five games, despite missing two games.
Delmar hoisted a state championship title just four years ago. Indian River has been the Henlopen South champ the past three years — but this is a new year and a new game.
And in the end on Oct. 13, Delmar’s defense cut the Indian River’s rushing attack off at the head, limiting them to only 41 rushing yards on 23 attempts and forcing quarterback Nick Kmetz to just keep his team in the game in a 28-21 losing effort.
Kmetz completed 11 of 20 passes for 213 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, but Delmar’s rushing attack proved too potent. Despite losing four of seven fumbles, Delmar capped a 93-yard go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard scamper by sophomore running back Tevin Jackson.
Delmar’s offense racked up 519 yards of total offense, with 411 rushing yards on 56 rushing plays and 104 passing yards. Jackson tallied 129 of his 136 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, with Jeremy Layton and Marquis Leatherbury chipping in 92 and 78 rushing yards, respectively, on 23 equitable carries.
Delmar’s running attack gashed Indian River’s defense, which was without standout middle linebacker Phillip Townsend. Townsend suffered a season-ending knee injury during Indian River’s Week 5 49-12 win over Lake Forest.
Delmar recorded 10 runs over 15 yards and added another 14 rushes over six yards to keep the chains moving, while Indian River’s defense routinely found themselves out of position mentally and physically, even after taking a 21-20 lead on Perry Townsend’s second touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter.
“On [Delmar’s] last drive, it was third-and-8 and they ran a belly — just a belly — which is a straight play, like they were almost saying, ‘Just get a few yards and punt, and the defense will muster up,’ and they ran that stupid play and got it a few inches,” Indian River head coach Jim Bunting said.
“It almost seemed like we were waiting for another fumble, which is a sad state,” Bunting added. “In a game with an ebb and flow of emotions, you’d think that we’d have that mindset of ‘We’re winning and you’re not,’ but that’s something I sensed we didn’t have.”
“And when we had chances to make tackles, we didn’t,” Bunting continued. “They got what I like to call ‘getting their chicken wing out there’ and tried to knock them down.”
Delmar didn’t go down easily and recorded 22 first downs in the game, compared to Indian River’s five — but three of those came by way of penalties. Three times Delmar rattled off run after run after run for first downs and twice they had back-to-back first-down runs.
Indian River’s lone first-down run came on a run by Dominique Morris following a fourth-quarter Delmar fumble. Kmetz, Indian River’s offensive conductor, kept Indian River in the game with his feet to avoid Delmar’s pass rush and tossed two of his three touchdowns outside of the pocket. But a late-game diving interception by Donald Poole squelched the Indians’ would-be game-winning scoring drive.
Delmar then drove the ball inside the Indians’ 5-yard line. But rather than drive the score up, Delmar’s head coach David Hearns decided to err on the side of caution. He’d seen Kmetz start the fourth quarter off with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Danny Bokinsky and make a go-ahead touchdown throw to Townsend — so Delmar downed the ball to prevent any late-game heroics.
“That Kmetz kid played a great game,” Hearns said in a telephone interview following Delmar’s win. “He scrambled and kept things alive. So when it came down to the end of the game, I knew Indian River could still have a chance to win, even if we scored — especially when we missed the extra point [in the fourth quarter].
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking they could get a quick score after we kicked off and then they could get an onside kick and have a chance for a last-second throw,” Hearns said. “It might’ve looked like we were doing the classy thing, but really I felt that they would find a way.”
Delmar currently holds a one-game advantage over Indian River in the conference standings as the 2006 regular season winds down. But with four games remaining, Hearns is hesitant to count the eggs before he has his chicken.
“Indian River is still king of the conference, ’til someone knocks them down,” Hearns said. “The way things work out, Indian River could find themselves in this thing. Woodbridge [3-3, 2-1 conference] is a sleeper and Smyrna [2-4 overall] has only one conference loss, so this could be a three-way tie thing.”
“But our guys just won a playoff-style game,” Hearns acknowledged. “Most of our players haven’t played in a game with so much emphasis on each possession. But they’ve put in a lot of hard work [this off-season] and it paid off. They went 93 yards to go ahead of a good football team.”
“I don’t know too many teams that could go 93 yards when they need to against a bad team,” Hearns said.
Delmar just missed the state tournament last year, with an 8-2 record, and was coming off a 3-7 record the year before.
Though Indian River is coming off their third consecutive conference championship, Bunting was quick to make note that this year’s team has to learn to overcome adversities as a young squad.
“We’re a very, very young team and I don’t think a lot of our guys have gone through a game with heightened intensity, with the game on the line. And losing a player with Phil’s caliber hurts. It’s been an emotional week, but that something our guys are going to have to build on,” Bunting said.
“This is a learning process for them,” he added.
Indian River will travel to Laurel on Oct. 20 for the midpoint of a difficult stretch that has included a rough game against Delmar and an upcoming game against Sussex Central on Oct. 27.