The No. 7 Indian River Indians (9-1) will host their first Delaware State Football Tournament game against the No. 5 Caravel Buccaneers (10-1) on Nov. 25 at Indian River High School with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Caravel blasted No. 6 Howard (9-2) of the Blue Hen Conference 31-14 due to great field position, a fast defense, an excellent turnover ratio and the efficient running of Bryant Bonds and Leo Cheaten.
Caravel runs a wing-T offense, which allows them an opportunity to move their backs and receivers in motion before the offensive snap. According to IRHS Head Coach Jim Bunting, the Bucs line up in a “dressed” formation only to shift into the formation they intend to run their play from.
“There are times when No. 3 (running back Alfonso Hoggard) lines up at certain positions where I know he won’t get the ball but then they shift into the next formation to run their play,” explained Bunting.
Caravel motions their backs away and to the play enough to where they’ll run four or five plays out of the same look, much like Indian River does.
“Our defense has done an outstanding job recognizing formations this season, and our defensive coordinator, Mike Norton, will make sure that they are ready all the shifts Caravel will throw at us,” said Bunting.
Caravel’s offense looked unspectacular but three to four yards a clip earns a first down on four tries. That, combined with the fact that the Bucs routinely had excellent field position, means a win.
Bucs punter Evan Sestak’s directional punting pinned Howard inside their own 15-yard line three times, which in turn gave Caravel great field position.
“Caravel’s punter did a fabulous job,” said Howard Head Coach Dan Ritter. “He’s definitely the best I’ve ever seen.”
Indian River has solidified their special teams as well this season. Perry Townsend has a boot at punter and kicker Andrew Cordell-Carey remains steady with his kickoffs and place-kicking.
Cordell-Carey recorded five touchbacks this season and has hit on 23 of 28 point-after attempts. He also garnered a perfect 3-for-3 field goal percentage, averaging 33-yards per attempt.
In case Carey is injured, Indian River has a reliable backup in place. Luke Wingate kicked five of six extra points through the uprights in two games.
Caravel started five out of 10 of their drives inside Howard’s territory, and the Bucs converted opportunity into touchdowns on three of those five drives.
Running back Bryant Bond scored two of the Bucs four touchdowns on the same play — wing-right, wing motion left, down left. Caravel lined up in a wing-right formation and put the wing-back in motion, giving Bonds two lead backs on each of his scores.
Their fourth touchdown (play-action pass to tight end Jeff Foster) was set up by a dive to Bonds. The fake to Bonds attracted every Howard defender, leaving Foster wide open for the touchdown.
Bonds, Cheaten and Hoggard didn’t put up tremendous numbers but they would be enough. Bonds gained 72 yards on 22 carries, in addition to his two touchdown runs.
Bonds and Cheaten have combined for some stellar game this season and if one of them isn’t running on all cylinders then they always have the other. Bonds gained a season-high 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns against Lindenwold. He also scored three touchdowns in three straight weeks, against Haveford, Chester and Tatnall.
Cheaten gained his season-high (162 rushing yards) against Haveford, and both he and Bonds earned well over 100 yards (137 for Cheaten, 132 for Bonds, and two touchdowns) in their victory over St. Elizabeth’s on Sept. 30. In contrast, Indian River hasn’t yielded a 100-yard rusher all season.
The strength of Indian River’s defense is its front eight, and that will be the key against Caravel’s offensive line, which averages a weight of 260 pounds. Indian River’s defensive front averages about 215, so muscling the Bucs probably won’t work. The Indians will have to use their quickness, as they have all season.
“I think this is going to be a great match-up,” said Laurel Head Coach Ed Manlove on the battle between Caravel’s offensive line and Indian River’s defensive front. “Indian River is very good up front. They’re very quick, aggressive and hit hard.”
Indian River’s defensive line accounted for 13 of their 16 sacks (Phillip Townsend leads the team with seven), which may bode well for the Indians come Friday evening. Howard’s big, lumbering linemen were able to pressure quarterback Brian Potts, sacking him three times.
Potts threw two touchdown passes, one to C.J. Brown (23 yards) and another to Foster (25 yards). Potts only completed three passes but given the opportunity, he has the arm strength to make any throw and appears comfortable in the pocket.
Bunting was unimpressed with his defensive backs’ play against Smyrna and noted the importance of an improved performance by this unit to move on in the state tournament.
“We played too soft against Smyrna.” said Bunting. “But this week they’re going to have to get to know them a bit. When (their receivers) go up – they’ve got get powdered. We’ve got to let them have it, and I don’t mean that in a dirty way. We can’t let them just catch the ball and run. We have to get up on them and contest every pass.”
The Bulldogs only completed five passes but two of them were third-down conversion completions of more than 14 yards.
Offensively, Indian River will be challenged by the Bucs’ fast linebackers. Oftentimes against Howard, they were hidden behind their big defensive line and were able to blitz into openings, creating havoc in the backfield.
Caravel limited Howard to 114 total yards and only 14 in the first half.
“Indian River is better running straight at them,” said Manlove. “(The Caravel linebackers) are so fast that if one of them gets into the backfield then they will cause damage.”
Laurel defeated Caravel 14-7 in the second week of the season, to which Manlove commented neither team was able to run the ball effectively.
Laurel scored their two touchdowns on a fumble-return and a long touchdown pass to Jeremy Bagwell. Five weeks later, Laurel played Indian River and they were out-rushed by the Indians, 149 yards to 29 yards, and dwarfed the Bulldogs in carries, 40-17.
Howard didn’t want to run wide but was forced to because of the congestion caused by Caravel’s behemoths on the defensive line.
“We were hoping our big offensive line could wear them down,” said Ritter. “We wanted to run straight at them, off-tackle. We didn’t sweep. It would have to be a big play for us.”
Indian River runs straight at defenses, all right, though it’s often the same play rather than up the middle. But that has been their M.O. — we’re going to run it down your throat ’til you stop us.
The critical point for Indian River’s offense is running their toss sweep. Caravel’s outside linebackers blew up Howard lead blocks, creating a jostled mess for the inside backers to clean up.
“Around the water cooler of coaches, we know that Caravel is going to try to slow down our toss so they can load up the box,” said Bunting. “We have to sustain our blocks.”
Zack Rector has shouldered much of the fullback responsibilities, with Perry Townsend, Josh Gott and Brian Bollinger out due to injury.
Rector has been a big contributor for opening holes for Matt Williamson, who has gained 567 yards and nine touchdowns over the past five games, but Caravel is sure to feel the power of the fullback this Friday when Townsend returns from his injury.
Townsend and Rector man the lead blocking duties but both have done well rushing the ball. Both average 5.2 yards per carry for the season.
Ultimately, whoever wins the turnover ratio most likely will win the game. Howard committed five turnovers to Caravel’s one, and the Bucs emerged victorious. Indian River created 25 turnovers compared to 11 made on their part, giving them a 2.3:1 turnover ratio for the season.
The Indians lost the turnover battle twice this season but only lost one of those games. Despite losing three fumbles and throwing one interception to Stephen Decatur in the second game of the season, Indian River proved good enough to scrap out a 19-7 victory. An early Williamson fumble against Smyrna pinned the Indians inside their own 10-yard line but limited them to only a field goal.
The playoffs are another beast all together and losing the turnover battle is a recipe for a season-ender.
“You can’t give a good team like Caravel that many turnovers,” said Ritter. “They sure made us pay for our mistakes.”