NEWARK – Archmere fell into a 10-0 halftime hole in the DIAA Class 2A football semifinal last week against Delaware Military Academy. The Auks made sure that did not happen in the final against Woodbridge on Dec. 11 at Delaware Stadium, as they jumped out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead. The Auks never looked back, putting together a dominating defensive performance on their way to a 27-0 shutout win and the school’s first football championship since 1982.
Top-seeded Archmere, which completed a 13-0 season, got to this point with a mix of running and passing, but on a windy Saturday, they stuck mostly to the ground game. After each team punted on its first possession, the Auks went to work with a short field after Declan Pearson returned the Blue Raiders’ punt to the Woodbridge 44.
Pearson stayed on the field and ran the first two plays of the drive, picking up three the first time and then 14 to move the Auks to the 27. Quarterback Chris Albero, a threat with both his arm and his legs this year, covered another seven on a keeper, then ran for eight. Micah Walker was next, carrying the ball for seven yards to the Woodbridge 5, and Pearson followed Conor Udovich into the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 4:22 left in the first.
The Blue Raiders, the No. 2 seed, had good field position after the ground ball kickoff, but the Archmere defense, which was stout all day, held them to a three and out. A bad snap on the punt, however, allowed Cole Fenice to get in and partially block the kick, setting the Auks up at the Blue Raiders’ 38.
The ensuing drive belonged to Pearson, who ran the ball on all five plays as the Auks added another touchdown. He got the drive off to an auspicious start with a 19-yard run, and finished it with a 4-yard bull run up the middle. The extra point was wide, however, and the first quarter ended with the Auks ahead, 13-0.
The Blue Raiders tried to make some progress through the air, but a pair of incompletions contributed to another three and out. Each team put together extended drives before halftime, but neither could add any points.
Woodbridge took the second-half kickoff and found some success with direct snaps to Kenny Newton and Wyatt Wright. Those two were able to move the ball from their own 40 to the Auks’ 14, where they had a first down. But the Auks’ defense stiffened, resulting in a fourth and four. Udovich made sure that was as far as they got, as he ended the threat with a sack of Newton to cause a turnover on downs.
Coach John Bellace said the stops were “huge.” Woodbridge has been very effective all season bouncing back in the second half, and Archmere’s coaching staff let the players know that the game was not over.
“You see them driving down the field, I thought it was incredibly important for our guys to get that stop, and then do something with it coming back in the other direction,” Bellace said.
Archmere’s joy after the stop was short-lived, however, as they fumbled the ball back to the Blue Raiders on the second play after Udovich’s tackle. #6WB found some open spaces and first down, reaching the Auks’ 16. Again, the Auks’ defense rose to the occasion, and the Bridge faced another fourth down at the 9. This time, linebacker Scott Lucarelli, the Auks’ leading tackler, made the big stop, taking the air out of the Blue Raiders and their supporters in the visitors’ bleachers.
Lucarelli said the linebacking corps, which includes Kevin DiGregorio and Cole Fenice, was clutch all season and especially Saturday.
“The line took care of the job, and the secondary stepped up. They weren’t passing, and you live for things like this,” Lucarelli said.
“When we play our game, no one can run on us,” DiGregorio said.
Following the second Auks defensive stand, Albero picked up 12 yards on three carries starting at the Archmere 7, and on first down from the 19, Johnny Kim took a counter down the right side, then cut back to the middle for a score that sent the Auks’ sideline and large fan contingent into hysterics. They could smell the title.
“I didn’t know it was 81 yards. That’s crazy,” Kim said. “It was all the blocking. I just ran straight. It was the blocking.”
Going through his head, he said as he ran downfield, was ”Just score the touchdown. I did not want to get tackled. We had to put our foot on the gas.”
Albero scored on a seven-yard run, capping a nine-play, 55-yard drive, for the final score of the afternoon with 7:15 to go. Coach John Bellace took the opportunity to get as many of his players into the game as possible, and when the final horn sounded, the Auks exhaled and celebrated.
“It’s been a long time coming. I know there’s a lot of people in the Archmere community that have been waiting. This group’s special, and I knew they could get it done. I just believed in them and they believed in each other. Hopefully, the Archmere community is partying tonight and having a good time with us,” Bellace said.
The Auks churned out 272 yards rushing, with Kim going for 100 and Pearson for 98. DiGregorio had 11 tackles to pace the defense.
The players said last year’s championship-game loss to Howard was in their minds since the final whistle last December in Dover, and that drove them this season.
“Last year was a heartbreak. It was. But we learned from it. We grinded all season to make sure it would never happen again,” Kim said.
“It’s better than what I thought it would be,” Albero said. “Last year, that was probably one of the worst feelings that I ever had, but I know that’s the reason that we’re here today. For us, and definitely for me.”
Lucarelli concurred. “It’s way better. Last year, losing 42-6, you can’t express your emotions. And they to turn it around, come back and go undefeated, and then win the state chip, it’s just something that’s surreal and awesome.”
After the game, Albero stood on the sideline as a large group of people wearing green and white waited for the players to exit the field. He looked up at where his schoolmates had been a few minutes before and said the players had all of the fans and the Archmere community on their minds as the game unfolded.
“All year at home games we felt like we were protecting the crib, and those people, they’re a part of the crib,” he said. “It’s pretty much making sure that they feel happy when we get our success.”
DiGregorio, who, like so many others on the team comes from a long line of Auks, wore a smile from ear to ear.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. We do it for Archmere. I’m proud to be an Archmere student, proud to be here, proud to win this,” he said.
Photos by Don Blake except where noted.