IRHS Football vs. Delmar - Homecoming - T.J. Burke barrels through the Delmar defense-BCom 17.jpg

Indian River fullback T.J. Burke barrels through the Delmar defense for a good gain on Friday, Oct. 22.

The Indians ran 63 plays from scrimmage, to just 31 for visiting Delmar last Friday night, Oct. 22. A total of 20 of those snaps were handoffs to senior running back Dalton Hall, who amassed a season- and game-high 135 rushing yards.

In most cases, those numbers would be kicking off a story about a resounding Indian River victory.

But not this time.

In front of a standing-room-only Homecoming crowd on both sides of the gridiron, the host Indians yielded five big plays — four of them for Wildcat touchdowns — in a 35-7 setback to their Division 2A visitors.

“We played well against a good Division 2A team,” said Indians head coach Phillip Townsend, whose 3-3-0 team’s Division 1A, District 2, record and path to the post-season remained unaltered. “The score doesn’t reflect how we played. We made some mistakes throughout the game or had silly penalties that didn’t allow us to finish our drives or end their drives. Overall, it was a good battle Friday night.”

Turning point

Indian River trailed 14-7 at halftime and appeared to be in a great position to rally in the final 24 minutes. But Delmar delivered two key plays on either side of the line of scrimmage to grasp control of the proceedings.

Senior Wildcat defensive back Jalen Johnson jumped the route, picked off IR senior quarterback Ryan Sheerer’s pass on the right sideline and rumbled 31 yards into the end zone, extending Delmar’s lead to 21-7.

“We knew going into the game that it was going to be difficult to throw against their defense,” said Townsend, whose passing attack was limited to four attempts and one completion for zero yards. “Our passing game was limited for that reason, but we had to throw occasionally to slow down their blitzing linebackers.”

Delmar senior running back Trent Kemp’s 58-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes remaining in the third period added to the Wildcats’ lead, at 28-7. And sophomore running back Brandon Turner’s 3-yard TD burst in the period’s final minute finished the night’s scoring, at 35-7.

Looking sharp early

In front of a large crowd on a crisp fall evening, the Indians looked sharp in the first quarter. The defense forced a punt after three plays on the Wildcats’ first possession, and the offense began moving the ball early.

But they allowed a 47-yard kickoff return by sophomore Takai Hugee, who picked up the pigskin at the last possible second and outran several converging would-be tacklers. On the next play, senior running back Jaylin Warner swept right for a 50-yard TD and a 7-0 Delmar lead with 6:43 remaining in the opening stanza.

The Wildcats struck again later in the quarter, when junior quarterback Gavin Powell connected with junior running back Darius Hunt on fourth down for a 20-yard TD aerial with 2:30 remaining, doubling their lead to 14-0.

Hocker pick provides inspiration

Indian River kept plugging away offensively, and junior Chance Hocker gave them a spark with an interception late in the second quarter.

“I thought Chance Hocker’s interception fired up the team,” said Townsend. “He had a good game on both sides of the ball. When he intercepted the ball, he ran with grit and ran through [several] tacklers, which gave our team some [momentum].”

On the following play, the senior Hall swept left and rambled 42 yards to the Delmar 1-yard line. On the following play, he punched it in from the 1-yard line — his team-leading sixth rushing TD of the season — with 1:59 left until intermission, cutting the Wildcat lead in half, to 14-7.

“Dalton Hall had a very impressive performance in the losing cause,” said Townsend. “He seemed to be a man possessed whenever he touched the ball. He ran with a purpose, running through tackles all night and keeping his feet moving, which we preach” at practice.

Complimenting his blockers

Hall was quick to compliment his offensive line’s work in the trenches.

“My blockers do a great job of blocking for me, more than anything,” said Hall, whose rushing total was the fourth-highest single-game mark of his career. “On that [42-yard] run, the ref said I was out of bounds [at the 1-yard line], but I thought I was in. We got the touchdown on the next play. All I can do is run hard for my team.

“The scoreboard was not an example of this game,” Hall added. “What hurt is that we had a lot of penalties,” he said of the seven penalties for 65 yards. “We’re a smash-mouth football team, and we can’t afford to have 15-yard penalties. We are a slow-and-steady type of offense,” he added, not one that can eat up large chunks of yardage on single plays.

In the second half, Delmar did an outstanding job of neutralizing the Indian running attack that had shown explosiveness in the opening 24 minutes.

“In the first half, our [offensive] line did a good job handling Delmar’s defensive line and their blitzing linebackers,” said Townsend, whose team accumulated a respectable 238 rushing yards. “In the second half, Delmar’s interior defensive lineman would dive at the knees of our [offensive] linemen, and we had no answer for that. It was dirty [but] nowhere in the rule book does it say it’s illegal; but made it very difficult to run the ball.”

Stat’s Incredible:

The Indians’ defense yielded 206 total yards, 161 of them on the ground. Senior T.J. Burke, who was voted the 2021 Homecoming king, rushed 18 times for 85 yards, while Hayden Hall added 40 yards on 11 carries. Senior defensive lineman Laron Horsey led the defense with four tackles, one for a loss. Juniors Hayden Hall and Hocker each contributed three stops, while Dalton Hall, and juniors Donavan Roos and Ashton Stephens each added two tackles.

Next game: Saturday @ First State Military Academy:

The Indians will visit Division 1A, District 2, rival First State Military Academy in Clayton this Saturday morning, Oct. 30, with an 11 a.m. opening kickoff. The game will be available live and then on demand to NFHS subscribers. Monthly ($10.99) or annual ($69.99) subscriptions may be purchased at www.NFHSnetwork.com.

The Bulldogs (0-4-0 in district play) are tied with Early College at DSU (0-4-0 in district competition) for sixth place in Division 1A, District 2. The Indians (3-0-0 in district competition) are in second place, a half-game behind Laurel (4-0-0), which defeated FSMA, 71-0 last Saturday.

“A win against First State Military Academy this week will solidify a playoff spot for Indian River this year,” said Townsend. “It will be easy to fire the team up [because] they know how important this game is to accomplish our goal of winning the division.”

The Indians will finish their regular season at home against Laurel on Friday, Nov. 5, with a 7 p.m. opening kickoff, and versus Early College at Delaware State University on Thursday, Nov. 10, with a 6 p.m. opening kickoff.

Staff Reporter

Mike is a veteran sports journalist, covering generations of student-athletes in Pennsylvania, Texas and Delaware. He moved to the area in 2018 with his wife, Colleen. His passion for people and sports enables him to honor young athletes’ achievements.