For The Dialog
NEWARK – The Division I football state championship came down to one play, and the Smyrna Eagles responded at the most important time. Smyrna’s defense stopped Salesianum’s bruising Colby Reeder on fourth down from the 1-yard line in overtime, giving the Eagles a 32-26 win and the 2015 state championship.
Salesianum won the coin toss in overtime and elected to give Smyrna the first possession. A holding call put the Eagles in a third-and-20 situation, but quarterback Nolan Henderson hit Jared Gillis for 19 yards. Running back Will Knight took it in on fourth, giving the Eagles a six-point lead and the chance to win the title.
The game featured lots of changes in momentum, and Salesianum forced the first one when its defense caused Smyrna running back Will Knight to fumble on fourth down at the Eagles’ 39. The Sals went to work, with senior Zach Jarome running for 18 yards, followed by a 21-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback to senior receiver Jeremy Ryan. The extra point missed wide, and the Sals led, 6-0.
The Eagles answered with a long drive that was aided by two fourth-down conversions. Charlie Taylor took a lateral from quarterback Nolan Richardson for a four-yard touchdown, but Smyrna’s two-point attempt failed, and the score was tied.
Salesianum regained the lead in the second quarter as Jarome took a handoff on fourth-and-one; he galloped 38 yards to give the Sals a 12-6 lead. The defense stopped Smyrna on the next possession, and the offense took advantage. Gwynn hit senior tight end Kyle Cathers for a 42-yard scoring pass. Again, the two-point conversion missed, and Salesianum took an 18-6 lead into halftime. The Sals were knocking at the door at the end of the second quarter, but Smyrna intercepted a pass near the end zone.
The Eagles struck first in the third quarter with a 99-yard drive. The final 86 of those came on a pass to Taylor from Richardson. Smyrna’s two-point conversion failed, and the Sals’ lead was 18-12. Salesianum responded after an interception by Griffin Salvo, as Gwynn found Ryan in the back of the end zone. This time, Gwynn successfully ran for the extra two points, and Salesianum held a 14-point advantage.
That lead lasted mere seconds, as Taylor returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a score. Knight added the two-point conversion, and the Salesianum lead was cut to 26-20. The Eagles tied the game on their first drive of the fourth quarter. First, Knight found Gillis on a 68-yard double pass, then he finished things himself on a 6-yard run. The game stayed tied as Smyrna could not convert another two-point attempt.
That set up the overtime in front of a large crowd, many of them wearing Smyrna red. For the Eagles, the game was revenge for a loss to Salesianum in the season’s third week, and it was the school’s first football championship.
Salesianum finished the season 10-2.