WILMINGTON — Salesianum grabbed an early lead against Sussex Central in the teams’ DIAA Class 3A quarterfinal, and it would hold up in a 34-12 Sals victory on Nov. 27 at Abessinio Stdium. The loss ended the Golden Knights’ hopes of repeating as state champions and was the second time this season the Sals defeated Central.
This was Salesianum’s night, especially in the first half, when the home team built up a three-touchdown lead while shutting down the Central offense. The defensive work began on the opening kickoff, as the Golden Knights were forced to begin at their own 15. They went three and out.
The Sals began their first drive at the Sussex Central 24 after their punt returner was hit after having signaled for a fair catch. The drive wasn’t easy, as quarterback Conor Campbell was forced to convert a fourth and five from the 19 with an 11-yard keeper that gave his team a first and goal from the 8. Campbell picked up two yards on first down, then covered the remaining real estate on the next play to put the Sals up a touchdown with 7:08 left in the first.
Central’s next three possessions ended with punts, and after the third one, Salesianum had the ball on their own 49. Andrew Ransome took the next two carries for 15 yards, giving the Sals a first down at the Knights’ 36. The methodically chewed up yards, with Ransome eventually running for 15 to give Salesianum first and goal at the 5. Ransome ended the drive with a 4-yard scoring run, doubling the Sals’ advantage with 4:25 left in the half.
The Sals added another score and lots of momentum just before the half. The defense once again held the Knights, forcing a punt with about 1:20 left. Noah Fathy broke through and got a hand on the punt, sending it fluttering through the air. Chase Jackson picked it up at the Central 45, then headed down the left sideline for a score and a 21-0 lead at the 1:10 mark.
Salesianum received the second-half kickoff and embarked on a 72-yard scoring drive. The first play of the drive was an eight-yard pass from Campbell to Deuce Rzucidlo, and it also included a 14-yard run for Campbell and a juggling catch by Lukas Ryan. It ended as it began, with Rzucidlo getting behind the defense for a 17-yard touchdown pass reception. The extra point was blocked, but the lead was 27-0.
The Golden Knights finally found some offense four minutes into the fourth quarter. Quarterback Zimir Gardner finished a 55-yard drive with a 36-yard TD pass to Kristopher Shields on a fourth and 11.
It took the Sals two minutes to answer. Starting at the Golden Knights’ 49, the Sals moved to the 13 after a 23-yard end around for Michael Portale and a personal foul on Central. Ransome carried twice for six yards, then Sean Curley took over, covering the last four yards on two carries to make the score 34-6.
Renldo Handy caught an 18-yard pass to wrap up the scoring.
Salesianum improved to 8-2 and will travel to Middletown next weekend to battle the second-seeded Cavaliers. It will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
Central finished the season 6-6.
All photos by Mike Lang.