The Sussex County Warhawks semi-pro football team’s season is nearly over. A light is visible at the end of the tunnel, but no one knows just how long their road may go and despite losing three straight games, it is possible to still make the playoffs.
The Warhawks’ 16-8 loss to the New Castle Raiders on March 18 marked their third straight loss and second that was decided in the fourth quarter. They dropped a heartbreaker to the Baltimore Nightmare on March 11 on two missed field goals, but this time fate was taken out of their hands and placed in the officials’.
Tied at eight apiece late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders were faced with a fourth-and-25 down and distance, and knocking on the Warhawks’ end zone. The Raiders completed a 15-yard pass and were touched down at the 5-yard line — which would’ve allowed the Warhawks to takeover on downs — but the referee didn’t see the tag and the receiver was able to get up and score the go-ahead, would-be winning, touchdown.
After getting bucked off, the Warhawks climbed back on the horse for a final drive but quarterback Tony Eskridge tossed a fatal touchdown pass on a critical fourth-and-7 situation in the Raiders’ red zone.
“It was a very physical game and we played right down to the end,” said head coach John Boyer. “We really wanted to win and we needed it, too. It would’ve been a big boost.”
Again, the Warhawks faltered because they couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone. Three times they threatened the Raiders’ end zone and not once did they score a point. A false start penalty on their final fourth-and-2 play pushed them back to the 12-yard line and cost them a possible first down and quite possibly a touchdown.
“My play selection is so much more on fourth-and-2,” said offensive coordinator Butch Yocum. “The defense has to respect the run and the pass, but when you get in a fourth-and-7 situation it’s more or less a drop back and wing it. Seven yards is a little too much to do it (gain the first down) on the ground.”
The Warhawks’ only score came on a first-half 75-yard interception return by defensive back Darnell Strand.
Even though they haven’t won since Feb. 25, the Warhawks have a very good chance of still making the playoffs. The top two teams from the New Jersey and Delaware divisions receive an automatic bid, which leaves four remaining slots to bill filled by the teams with the best records, regardless of division. If, for some reason, two teams have identical records the tie-breaker goes to head-to-head match ups, and if they never played each other, it comes down to points allowed.
The Warhawks automatically make the playoff if they win their remaining two games against the Wicomico Stallions (3-3) and the New Castle Knights (1-4) – but winning one of two may still get them in.
The Kent County Fire (3-3) and the Cumberland County (New Jersey) Mastadons (3-3) currently own the fifth and sixth slots. The Stallions hold the seventh slot with a 3-3 record and have allowed only 66 points (compared to the Fire’s 48 and Mastadons’ 62). The Warhawks currently are in the last playoff spot, at 2-4 and giving up 112 points.
The Talbot County Warriors (2-3) are tucked in tightly behind the Warhawks, but their schedule, like the others, are much tougher down this two-game stretch.
The Fire will play the New Castle Saints (5-1) on March 25 and the Knights the following week, so realistically, a 4-4 finish is the most probable.
The Warhawks beat the Fire 6-0 earlier this season, so the Warhawks would have the edge in head-to-head match ups.
If the Stallions lose to the Warhawks this Sunday they can still get in with a win over the Raiders in the regular-season finale, but it will come down to points. The Talbot County Warriors (2-3) beat the Warhawks 20-6 and play the Raiders and Thunder.
The Warhawks haven’t had great success as of late, but now the hard part is over and it’s time to go for it, according to Yocum.
“We can still get in with one win and some help, but I don’t like knowing that. We need to win the last two games — no ifs, ands or buts,” Yocum said. “Our schedule is helping us — now we have to beat these teams.”
The Warhawks will host the Stallions at the Seaford Boys’ and Girls’ Club for a noon kickoff on March 26.