WILMINGTON — All season, Archmere has been able to put points on the board on their way to a 7-2 regular season. But on Nov. 26 at Abessinio Stadium, the Auks turned up the defense, pitching a shutout in a 13-0 victory over Howard in a DIAA Class 2A quarterfinal. That win sends the Auks to a semifinal showdown at top-seeded Caravel next week.
The fifth-seeded Auks and No. 4 Wildcats played a 38-34 shootout on Sept. 24, one of Archmere’s two regular-season losses. But on a pleasant, sun-splashed afternoon, the teams traded time-consuming drives punctuated by good defense.
The Auks’ defense bent a little bit on the opening drive, which started with the Wildcats at its own 49. Mixing runs and passes, Howard had the ball first and goal at the 10 before Damien Ross carried the ball to the 5. Two plays later, the Wildcats faced a fourth and goal at the 4, but the drive ended up empty when Ben Mongare threw quarterback R.J. Matthews out of bounds at the 2.
Howard had two other possessions in the first half, and they also ended on turnovers on downs. The Auks’ three drives ended with a turnover on downs, a punt and an interception.
Archmere finally broke through in the third quarter after forcing the Wildcats to punt from deep in their own territory. Starting at the Wildcats’ 45, the drive got off to an inauspicious start with two incomplete passes. But Cole Fenice picked up 13 yards on third down, and on the next play, quarterback Chris Albero faked a handoff and took off over right tackle, cutting outside and going untouched into the end zone with 4:49 remaining in the quarter. The extra point was no good, so the lead was 6-0.
Howard moved the ball to the Auks’ 48 on a hook and lateral on the second play of the ensuing possession, but they would gain just three more yards. On fourth and 7, the snap went over the head of Matthews, who is also Howard’s punter, and as he scrambled to get away from the Auks’ rush, his throw was intercepted by Dom Anerino.
That led to some insurance for the Auks, but it wasn’t easy. Starting at the Wildcats’ 37, they moved backward thanks to a penalty and a fumble that they recovered. Facing a third down and 20, Albero rolled to his right and threw down the right side to Fenice, who got one foot and perhaps two inbounds as he landed for a first down at the 24. That play ended the third quarter.
From there, three running plays and a penalty covered the rest of the field. Fenice did the scoring honors, going up the middle from three yards out to increase the lead to 13-0 with 11:11 left.
Howard went on one more drive to try to get on the board, but the Auks’ defense remained steadfast. Again, the Wildcats were able to move the ball, progressing from their own 17 to the Auks’ 26, but that drive also ended on downs. Archmere regained possession with approximately eight minutes to go in the game, and they used all of that time with a 14-play march, the last of which was a kneel down that ran out the clock.
Fenice ran 18 times for 126 yards, and he also caught three passes for 37 yards. He had 10 tackles on defense, and both of his punts were downed inside the 20. Albero rushed for 54 yards and threw for 97. Aidan Bellew and P.J. Blessington each had six tackles. The Auks improved to 9-2; their game at Caravel next weekend will be played on either Friday or Saturday at a time to be announced.
Howard finished the season 8-2.
All photos by Nick Halliday.