Indian River’s football team lost five all-conference defensive starters to graduation last year, including three defensive linemen and a pair of linebackers.
Indian River head coach Jim Bunting and his staff countered the losses by asking first-team defensive end Phillip Townsend to switch positions and join his identical-twin brother Perry at middle linebacker, to help shore up the run.
On Sept. 29, the pair, along with the rest of the Indian River (4-0) defense, held the state’s leading rusher, Jordan Wescott, and the rest of the Woodbridge (1-3) offense scoreless in a 41-6 victory. (Wescott, through Week 3, had 559 yards.)
Wescott got his, too, rushing for 111 yards on 19 carries from both the running back and quarterback position but fell short of his per-game average by nearly 75 yards. The rest of the Blue Raiders’ rushers tallied only 22 yards on 12 carries and fumbled twice, resulting in two Indian River second-half touchdowns.
Woodbridge’s lone score came on a 90-yard kickoff return by freshman running back Josh Quinones, but beyond that and Wescott, Woodbridge lay silent.
And in only his fourth game at middle linebacker since middle school, Phillip Townsend used his 4.6 speed to close in on Blue Raider ball carriers like a heat-activated missile. He led Indian River with 10 tackles, four for a Blue Raiders loss — including his second quarterback sack of the season on Woodbridge’s first pass play. Phillip Townsend also had seven assists.
Perry Townsend wasn’t far off his brother’s mark, with seven tackles, 11 assists and one deflected pass, which junior safety Nick Kmetz returned 90 yards for touchdown and a 27-6 lead.
Phillip Townsend admitted that the transition from defensive end to linebacker has been challenging but noted that having his brother next to him is a great help.
“At defensive end you only have your one man [to beat] and at linebacker you have a lot more responsibility,” Phillip Townsend said. “You’re responsible sideline to sideline, and if there’s a pass then you have to get back. But when my brother and I are both on defense, I feel so comfortable. He can help me out, which is good about him playing the position before, and sometimes I can help him out because he forgets some things too.”
“They’re brothers,” Bunting said. “Who else can you trust more than your own kin? When Perry makes a call, Phillip knows that it’s the right one.”
Indian River’s twin terrors excel on the football field each Friday night, patrolling sideline to sideline like a pair of killer whales stalking their quarry, but they also are excellent students. Both take honors chemistry and physics (Perry has a 100 percent), as well as harassing opposing offenses at a furious pace.
It is this versatility that Indian River’s coaching staff saw in them to help anchor their defense and why a handful of colleges have made recruiting them a top priority this season.
Holy Cross (3-2) of Worcester, Mass., has made the Townsends “their top recruiting priority,” this season, according to Bunting, while Georgetown University (1-3), No. 17 University of Delaware (2-2) and Division II West Chester (3-2) round out the Townsend’s short list of prospective schools.
Georgetown lost to Holy Cross 27-13 in this year’s season opener and keeps in contact with the pair every week. In fact, Georgetown head coach Kevin Kelly prodded the Townsends following their disappointing loss, in hopes to stoke a competitive fire by saying that if “they went to Holy Cross next year, they [Georgetown] would just have to beat them,” according to Phillip.
And it’s easy to see why these colleges are vying so intently for the Townsends’ abilities: because they play football fast and violently.
“A lot of it’s physics,” Bunting said. “The quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line, and they’re going to run through it sooner or later. They’re going 90 miles per hour and when they hit somebody that runner goes 90 mph in the other direction.
“If I was a quarterback and had to look over my center and see those two boys and knew that you can’t go right or left… It’s got to work on you,” Bunting continued.
Kmetz keeps completing passes
Though the first three weeks of high school football, Indian River quarterback Nick Kmetz ranked No.1 in Delaware in passing efficiency (67.9 percent) according to DEPreps.com, he completed 19-28 passes and increased to his total by completing 8-10 passes for 114 yards (71.6 percent for the season — 28-39) in their Week 4 41-6 win over Woodbridge on Sept. 29.
Indian River’s win over Woodbridge marked Kmetz’s second 100-yard passing game of the season, though he is still looking for his first touchdown pass.
Last season, he threw five touchdown passes in spot duty, while making two starts for an injured Eric Givans late in the season.
Kmetz’s starting tight end and long-time neighbor Josh Hitchens snagged three passes for 31 yards against Woodbridge and now has a team-high, eight receptions for the year.
“He [Kmetz] is pretty much on the money,” Hitchens said. “He has a pretty good arm, but we’ve been neighbors forever so we throw every day.
“We’ve put in a lot of time together,” Hitchens added.
Kmetz admitted earlier this season that he had rushed his throws in Indian River’s season opening 20-14 win over Cape Henlopen completing 4-8 passes for 59 yards but he’s since found his rhythm in the offense, and on defense too.
“You’ve got to commend Nick,” Bunting said. “He’s proven that it’s not the size [or height] of a quarterback that matters. I don’t know if the poor boy was born with a football but it certainly doesn’t seem like he ever had a choice. He has a tremendous work ethic and, from what I understand, his father [and coach, Paul] had him throwing balls everyday in the back yard when he was in Pop Warner.”
In addition to becoming a very accurate passer, Kmetz has shown a knack for making plays on defense in recording his third and fourth interceptions of the year against Woodbridge.
“Usually, I don’t like my quarterbacks mixing it up on defense because I don’t want them to take any cheap shots, but [defensive coordinator] Mike Norton has always wanted him out there and its hard not to let him,” Bunting said. “He knows all the reads and helps the corners out.”
Bunting also credited his team’s receivers and their off-season work for the passing game’s success.
“The one thing we try to impact on these kids is to practice hard but also to have perfect practice,” he said. “Now, I know as a coach there’s no such thing, but in a 40 minute practice the other day during seven-versus-seven passing drills we had only three dropped passes. These boys have done a tremendous job. They’ve been throwing [and catching] 100 passes a day, four days a week since January and they’re starting to see the results.
Indian River was set to host Lake Forest (1-3) Oct. 6 for Senior Night. Lake Forest is known as a passing team and, though Indian River has jumped out to a 4-0 lead, Bunting expects more of a pass rush to help curtail the Spartans’ offensive attack.
“Stephen Decatur threw the pill and Cape Henlopen certainly did, which I thought was our weakest performance by our secondary. But I still want to grow – especially with Delmar, Laurel and [Sussex] Central coming up,” Bunting said. “I want to see my interior linemen get more of a push upfield and see my defensive ends on the quarterback, and let our corners and linebackers do their job.
Middle linebacker Phillip Townsend recorded sacks against Woodbridge.