One of the biggest jolts of last off-season was the announcement that Middletown’s Mark DelPercio would stop down as head football coach of a team that played in 5 of the past 6 state title games.
Instead of hiring from outside of the family, they went with defensive coordinator Zach Blum, which linebacker Kedrick Washington thinks is a big reason they’ve been able to roll off 11-straight victories this year.
“Coach Blum has our trust and our best interest at heart. We knew him, we knew the best of him. He knew everything we liked to do, he knew our schemes, he knew the players and all the things we like to do, he was a great fit.”
If Blum is part of the tradition, so is the Cavaliers’ defense. The Cavs haven’t surrendered more than 14 points since hanging on for a 35-28 win over their championship opponent Smyrna back in week 1. Whitehead said the continuity has been key.
“Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. We have a lot of leaders on this defense. Coming up through the program we’ve had a lot of good leaders that have helped me see what works and what doesn’t work.”
Defensive lineman Jonathan Smith is leading the way with a team-high 45 tackles, including 16 for loss, and 11 hurries to go with 4 sacks.
Earnest Washington, who has also been a nightmare for opponents in the return game, has 2 of his teams 19 interceptions.
“Our defense we try to do everything. We fly to the ball, and try to get the ball out. We get on top of all of keys which we have to do to be a successful defense.”
Coach Blum said he looks to Washington to be a leader.
“”Hes the mental leader of that secondary group. There’s a lot of moving peices there, and a lot on his plate, defensively. He makes sure those guys are on the same page, playing the same coverages, playing the same way.”
While Middletown did win that first game against Smyrna, they did get torched for 317 rushing yards and four 60+ yard runs by Will Knight, who became the state’s all-time leading rusher last week.
Whitehead said there is a respect, but also the need to be fundamentally strong to try to slow the senior down.
“Will’s an excellent back. He has speed, power, almost the full package. All we have to do is wrap him up, tackle him, and get him to the ground. Also we must gang tackle, swarm to the ball, claw at the ball, and rip that ball out.”
Blum echoed many of Whitehead’s concerns, calling Knight a top-class rival, in all areas.
“Everyone’s biggest concern is Will Knight, he’s a fantastic football player, and he does a very nice job. He’s going to do a very nice job when he moves on to the next level. I think the interesting part when you talk to him is that he’s a great kid. You love to see that. I don’t know if that makes it tougher or not (laughs). Sometimes it would be easier if you had to defend a kid you didn’t like, but he seems like a really quality person, and a bright future as well.”
The fact the Harvest Bowl rivals started the season, and will now end the season, could be seen as an advantage, but Blum was a little more coy when asked about it.
“”Yes and no. There’s some things that they haven’t seen from us in the first game, but of course there’s things we haven’t seen from them. There’s pros and cons.”
A major pro for the Cavs figures to be junior quarterback Drew Fry, who has completed 63% of his passes for 1,560 yards and 19 touchdowns against 5 interceptions. He’s also scored 7 rushing touchdowns.
Despite dealing with an ankle injury, Whitehead still accumulated 1,267 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, and the dangerous receiving combination of Nicky Johnson and Kenny Edelin bring 1,142 yards and 16 scores into the contest.
Want big plays? All nine touchdowns from Harvest Bowl I were at least 21 yards in length.
The big plays are there, the new coach is there, but Washington reminds his team that you can’t let a potential crowd of close to 10,000 fans change how you play.
“You’ve still got to play ball. It’s a different stage. You’re going to have a bigger crowd, but you just have to go out there and play ball and play your game.”
It figures to be quite the game, as the Harvest Bowl is at a level Delaware has never seen before.