The streets were ablaze with swirling lights and the clamor of celebration from several hundred voices. Ray Steele vividly remembers every detail.
Nearly 10 years later, the Indian River High School head football coach from 2011 to 2015 can still happily visualize the welcoming glare of police vehicle lights ushering the football team’s bus through Dagsboro. Its student athletes and coaches were being saluted as conquering heroes by throngs of people lining both sides of the town’s thoroughfares.
The shrieks of pure joy punctuated the early evening chill, providing a fitting exclamation point to the Indians’ 35-13 victory over Caravel Academy on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, at Delaware State University’s Alumni Stadium in Dover. The triumph completed an undefeated 11-0 run to the 2011 DIAA Division II state high school championship in Steele’s first year at the helm, making them the third Southern Delaware school in four years to win the title.
“It was absolutely surreal,” said Steele, who will be in attendance at the 10th anniversary celebration of his team’s memorable title run, set to take place before this Friday night’s Indians football game against the Odessa Ducks, at Indian River High School Stadium. “The streets were clogged with people everywhere. And when we reached the school, hundreds of folks greeted us there. It was just unreal how many people were there. To me, it was a great moment for the entire community.”
Energized by the ‘run-and-shoot’
This Indians’ memorable march to the school’s second state title (they previously won in 1988) was energized by their unique style of the “run-and-shoot” offense, and a stingy but oft-overlooked defense (coached by defensive coordinator Mike Norton) that allowed an average of just under 14 points per game and produced two shutouts. The IR defense’s task was made easier by an attack that produced an amazing 479 points (43.5 per game), including seven outings when they put up 40-plus points and two others with 50-plus markers.
“We were the first school in this area to use the run-and-shoot, and it was our own version,” said Steele, whose offensive coordinator was Paul Kmetz. “We tried to run three or four plays a minute,” bypassing the huddle and ending each play by assembling on the line of scrimmage for the next one. “We let our quarterback,” senior Jermyll “Jamie” Jarmon, “make 95 percent of the calls himself. We told him what to expect [from the defense] and let him do the rest.”
By deftly running their offense at breakneck speed, the Indians left rival defenses gasping for breath.
“They couldn’t substitute because we were just running the offense so quickly,” said Steele, who was a first-year head coach in 2011, after spending the previous 34 as an assistant. “Once the referee put the ball in play, we were ready to go. Our kids worked so hard every practice session to quickly get [back] into position in order to make the offense work. We just wore people out, grounded them into the turf. By the second half, we had everything under control. And we didn’t send in plays — I’d yell at Jamie” occasionally, he said.
Jarmon accounted for 50 touchdowns and more than 3,000 all-purpose yards in a scintillating performance that earned him DIAA and Gatorade Player of the Year honors. His star was still rising in the championship showdown when he contributed 130 yards and three TDs to a rushing attack that produced 397 yards. Jarmon also deftly handed off to running back junior Aaron Moore, who amassed a game-high 178 and another six-pointer.
With the exception of 28-14 and 28-7 triumphs over Delmar and Laurel, respectively, they had marched through their schedule by posting one-sided victories en route to the Henlopen Athletic Conference Southern Division title.
Semifinal showdown vs. Sussex Central
But reaching the championship showdown proved challenging. In the state semifinal, Indian River trailed undefeated area rival Sussex Central going into halftime. Steele was in a foul mood as he entered the locker room and prepared to address the team.
“The first player I saw was Jarmon, and before I could say a word, he said, ‘Don’t worry, coach — we got this.’ We scored 47 points in the second half, but I can’t tell you how we scored them — that’s how fast our offense put them up,” en route to a 47-17 victory, said Steele, who earned the prestigious Tubby Raymond Award as Coach of the Year from the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association. “Everyone on both sidelines left the field that day shaking their head, saying, ‘That’s a good football team.’”
Steele recalled enjoying a mix of enjoyment and relief in the immediate aftermath of winning the state title.
“Our kids worked so hard and played so focused, with regard to their conditioning and practice,” said Steele, who retired after the 2015 season with a won-lost-tied mark of 31-14-0 in five years. “I can’t remember a bad practice all year.
“In fact, I remember offensive workouts where the ball would not touch the ground during the whole session,” not via fumble nor incomplete pass, added Steele, a math teacher and assistant principal at the high school, whose brothers Mike Steele (football statistician) and Mark (superintendent, principal, and math and physics teacher) have also served Indian River High School students. “I look back and think, what a great opportunity I had to take that ride with those student-athletes.”