Southern Henlopen Champion Indian River High School’s state tournament championship dreams were dashed in their quarterfinal match-up with the Caravel Buccaneers on Nov. 25.
The Bucs’ 31-0 dusting of the Indians was just another notch in Caravel’s belt on their way back to the Division II Delaware State Championship game. Caravel busted two other league champions — Tatnall of the Independent League (36-6) and Howard of the Blue Hen Flight B Conference (31-14) — with a speedy ground game or by attacking defense, and Indian River proved no better a match.
“I have to give them their props. We simply got beat by the better team,” said Indian River Head Coach Jim Bunting. “And the kids looked at it like they should’ve, unlike some of the fans.
“We haven’t seen team speed like that,” Bunting continued. “We’ve played against teams in the Henlopen Conference that had players we could isolate, but once (the Bucs running backs) turned the corner we didn’t have the speed on defense to stop them.”
There isn’t any substitute for speed, and Caravel’s football team is loaded. The Indians defenders were in chase-and-tackle mode all night against the Bucs’ speedy running backs, and a quartet of red-eyed linebackers bottled up the Indian River’s sturdy offense.
Leo Cheaten led his team with a game-high 128 yards of 254 team rushing yards and a touchdown on outside sweeps and counter-traps to the backside, both of which troubled Indian River’s 4-4 defense.
“Our 4-4 couldn’t stop their sweep once they reached the outside,” said Bunting. “We started to change personnel, but we didn’t have the added personnel to attack their outside.”
Caravel’s running game was aided by formational design because they could have run one of any three of their backs on any play. Formation recognition had been Indian River’s forte all season but weren’t able to capitalize enough against the Bucs.
“We’d done a great job recognizing formations all season, but we were always one step behind against Caravel,” said Bunting.
Indian River could only stop Caravel behind the line of scrimmage four out of 65 total plays. Two of linebacker Perry Townsend’s 10 tackles netted negative yardage, but they were too far and few between to smother Caravel’s running game.
The Bucs’ burley back, Bryant Bonds, busted his way free for 89 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion, while Alfonso Hoggard added 31 yards.
Caravel ran the ball so effectively that it set up their passing game, and though it wasn’t efficient, it was effective. Quarterback Brian Potts completed only two passes on nine attempts, but both sailed into Brendon Hudson’s outstretched arms for touchdowns.
On the other hand, Indian River had no such success offensively. This season, the Indians averaged 287 yards of total offense and three times topped the 350-yard mark. But Caravel would put them in their place. The Bucs limited Indian River to 140 yards of total offense (38 of which came on a Thomas Veith run in the fourth quarter) and forced five turnovers.
“We have an attacking-style, high-energy defense, and execution on defense put us over the edge,” said Caravel’s head coach, Mike Aruanno.
“Our defense is really good at stopping the run, so we had to make sure we didn’t give up anything in the passing game. We noticed they had some playmakers in the passing game,” added linebacker Jimmy Williams.
Indian River suffered the same turnover ratio as Howard High School (5:1) (their highest total this season) and coughed up four fumbles. They also tossed a game-clinching interception, which couldn’t happen if the Indians were to win.
“We sure made our share of turnovers and they capitalized,” said Bunting.
“You can’t give a good team like Caravel that many turnovers,” added Howard Head Coach Dan Ritter. “They sure made us pay for our mistakes.”
Caravel turned two fumble recoveries into 13 of their 31 points. Caravel added 10 more points after taking over on downs on one possession and following an Indian River punt.
Indian River seldom had running room and Caravel’s linebackers destroyed plays before they developed, resulting in 10 plays of no gain or less. Williams tallied four tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble but his fellow backers wouldn’t be out-done.
Outside linebacker Tyler Keister added 1.5 sacks, and outside linebacker Vinnie Rinato five tackles and a fumble recovery. Bonds added another six tackles, which further locked down the Indians’ offense.
The Indians usually dependable running game never kicked over despite the best efforts of their line and Matt Williamson. Most sweep plays were forced back inside for minor gains, if any.
“We had a hard time blocking backside,” said Bunting. “They were able to go laterally so fast that by the time Matt made his cut — the play was over. We just couldn’t seal it off.”
Indian River’s recently potent passing game was limited to only three completions on 15 attempts, but Nic Kmetz felt the fury of the Bucs defensive line more often than not. He was sacked three times, hit five others and had two passes batted (one at the line) in exchange for 31 passing yards.
After falling behind 23-0 in the first half, the game evened out and neither team was able to convert on drives — until Aruanno sealed the deal on the second drive of the fourth quarter with a fake-punt call that Cheaten took 46 yards to the house for their final score.
“I wanted to keep the clock running so I made the call,” explained Aruanno, “but I’ll take a touchdown anytime. We wanted the game over and well over.”
Despite the disappointment of losing a playoff game, especially at home, Bunting noted a rare quality in his players that is measured by both winners and losers: grace.
“I was proud to death of what was said by our leadership,” said Bunting. “They said things that we as coaches would say and it couldn’t have been said any better.
Bunting’s seniors thanked teammates for the opportunity to continue the tradition of Indian River football and the memories made on the field.
“They took the loss graciously,” said Bunting, “and handled themselves with class.”