NEWARK – The Division II football state championship game had ended nearly 30 minutes prior, and the Woodbridge Blue Raiders were still milling about Tubby Raymond Field at Delaware Stadium showing off their trophy, posing for pictures and chatting with the media. There were reminders about family and friends waiting to greet them and about the long bus ride back to Sussex County, but the players were in no hurry to let this moment fade.
“It's big. It's going to be wonderful for Sussex County to have a championship,” senior fullback and defensive lineman Leah Styles said. “I can't even explain it. I've never had such joy like this in my life. We just have something now that you can't take away from us. Now we can truly celebrate.”.
Woodbridge was joyous after finishing up a perfect 13-0 season with a 14-9 win over Friends in Saturday night's title game. It was the first football state championship for one of Delaware's smallest public schools.
Coach Ed Manlove arrived in Greenwood before the 2009 season and went 10-30 in his first four seasons. But in 2013 the Blue Raiders reached the semifinal round, and the coach knew there was something special brewing.
“We told those seniors, 'This group's going to be in the state championship someday.' They laid the groundwork for it. We knew it was coming. Just glad it came now,” he said.
“We're 13-0. Who would have thought? Wow!”
The Quakers had done a superb job shutting down Woodbridge's potent running attack, but sophomore quarterback Troy Haynes found a way to beat them for the what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown late in the third quarter. On second and eight at the Friends' 21-yard line, Haynes took a bootleg around right end and scampered untouched into the end zone. A two-point conversion gave Woodbridge a 14-6 lead with 1:31 left in the third quarter. Haynes said the Blue Raiders knew the bootleg would be successful.
“We knew that they were going to bite on the lead. They did it about four times in a row. After I saw there was one man to beat, I just ran as hard as I could for the touchdown,” he said.
Manlove said Friends was sending its defensive backs up toward the line, giving the play a chance at success.
“We took advantage of it when they were creeping up again,” he said. “That's just a play we have for (Haines) in those special situations. The corner was all the way up in the backfield, and we knew we were going to get it if we got the block.”
The Quakers answered with a 23-yard field goal on their next possession to cut the lead to five with 6:19 remaining, and they had a chance to take the lead almost immediately after Owen Sheppard recovered a fumble at the Blue Raiders' 13 on the second play after the kickoff.
Woodbridge's defense held, however, employing the bend-but-don't-break approach it used all night. Friends quarterback Justin Beneck lost 11 yards on consecutive sacks, and on fourth down, his pass into the end zone was deflected by James Kane. Styles said his teammates know when they have to crack down.
“When we get into the red zone, it's kind of a notice that we need to pick it up more than what we're doing now. We did our jobs and got it done,” he said.
Manlove said he would prefer if they did not have to do it so close to the end zone, although his team's turnovers put them in that situation. “When it came to crunch time, we got it done. Those kids were tremendous all year long.”
Blue Raiders running backs Terrique Riddick and Jamon Kane were able to pick up enough first downs to allow their team to run out the clock, setting off a wild celebration among the blue-clad fans who made the trip north.
The game did not begin on a good note for Woodbridge as the team lost a fumble on the first snap from scrimmage, with the Quakers recovering at the Blue Raiders' 17. Henry Gise picked up six yards on first down, but, on fourth-and-one at the eight, the Blue Raiders stuffed Friends running back Andrew Jaworski.
Woodbridge took over on downs, but after reaching its own 38, penalties sent the drive going in the wrong direction. The Blue Raiders were facing a first-and-27 from their own 21 when Haynes hit wide receiver Gabriel Wescott streaking down the right side of the field. Wescott reached the Quakers' four on the 75-yard play, setting up a Riddick touchdown run on first down. The kick was missed, giving Woodbridge a 6-0 lead about six minutes into the game.
“I had a stall block, so I acted like I was going to block, then I burst through the middle and all I could see was green,” Wescott said. “So blessed to be in the position to make that play.”
Friends got into Woodbridge territory three more times in the first half, but the Quakers could not put points on the board. Their final drive included a 22-yard pass from Beneck to Church to put the Quakers at the Blue Raiders' 20, but Kejon Mosley ended that threat with an interception on third down.
In the third quarter, it was Woodbridge that was set up deep in enemy territory after recovering a muffed fumble at the Friends' 18. Sheppard turned that into an advantage for the Quakers, jumping a route on third down and taking an interception 87 yards for Friends' lone touchdown. The score remained tied after the Quakers missed their extra point.
That set up Haynes for the winning bootleg four minutes later, something he feels he owed his team.
“I knew I messed up (on Sheppard's interception). I placed the ball where it wasn't supposed to be. I knew I had to pay them back, and that's what I did.
“I'm never going to forget this. It's going to be in my heart forever.”