WILMINGTON — St. Elizabeth’s football team managed to defeat Indian River last week in the DIAA Class 1A quarterfinal round without a healthy Quasim Benson, the workhorse running back who scored more than 30 touchdowns this season.
Benson’s status was somewhat of a mystery when the Vikings took the field at Abessinio Stadium on Nov. 25 against Seaford in the semifinal round, but it didn’t talke long to find out he was feeling much better. Benson ran the ball 31 times for 297 yards and four touchdowns as St. Elizabeth won a track meet against the Blue Jays, 46-35, to earn a return visit to Delaware Stadium for a chance at the state championship.
The Vikings, the second seed, will take on No. 1 Laurel, who defeated Tatnall in the other semifinal. The Bulldogs took the crown in 2021 with a 28-14 victory at Tubby Raymond Field.
Benson was not alone in inflicting damage through the running game. Chris Caracter carried the pigskin nine times, picking up 181 yards and two touchdowns, and he was involved in another score. Each time the Blue Jays threatened, the Vikings had an answer in a long but entertaining evening in the chill.
St. Elizabeth struck first after holding the Blue Jays on fourth down. After Benson ran twice for three yards, Caracter raced 59 yards up the middle for the game’s first score. Seaford responded with a field goal, and the Vikings took over at their own 25 after the kickoff. On third and four from the St. Elizabeth 31, Benson streaked 69 yards for his first score, putting the Vikings on top, 14-3.
The St. Elizabeth defense did a good job stopping the Blue Jays into the second quarter, and their offense got the ball back at their own 48 with 9:35 to go in the half. Benson ran for five yards, and Caracter did the rest, going 47 yards off left tackle to increase the lead to 20-3.
It took the Blue Jays just three plays to answer. On third and 8 from their own 42, quarterback Careen Bolden found a wide-open Tre’von-Keith Paulson to cut seven points off the lead.
On their next possession, the Vikings faced a fourth and 1 at their own 18. They went for it and were stopped, giving Seaford the ball in the red zone. But St. Elizabeth returned the favor, stopping the Blue Jays on fourth down at the 11. Benson made Seaford pay, running 77 yards on first down to the Blue Jays’ 11, then taking the next snap off left tackle for the score. Seaford wasted no time getting those points back, with Bolden returning the kickoff 70 yards for the score. With 2:24 left in the half, it was 27-17 Vikings, and it stayed that way into the intermission.
Seaford got the ball to open the second half, but they didn’t have it for long. Starting at their own 40, they strung together a 25-yard run, followed by a 35-yard touchdown for Jazonte Levan, who finished with 24 carries for 217 yards and two touchdowns. That cut the Vikings’ lead to 27-23, and the fans who made the trip from Sussex County were rocking.
Their joy was short-lived, however. After a squib kick, St. Elizabeth started at their own 42, Benson went back to work. On the fourth play of the drive, a fourth-and-1 from the Seaford 49, the senior broke through for another score, restoring a double-digit advantage.
The defenses took over for a bit until the Vikings regained possession near the end of the third. On the 10th play of the drive, Mikey Downes went 14 yards up the middle to the Seaford 3, and Benson did the rest. Finding a lane to the end zone. The lead was 16 after the missed extra point.
Levan ran 47 yards on first down, kept from a touchdown by a fast-closing Gavin Andrews, who tackled him at the Vikings’ 18. Levan did the rest on the next play to cut the St. E lead to 39-29 with 6:18 to go.
There was one more magical play in the cards for the Vikings. On a third and 9 from the St. Elizabeth 21, quarterback Cole Soto handed off to Benson, who turned and gave the ball to Caracter. He went up the middle before being caught around the 20. The Blue Jays knocked the ball loose, but St. Elizabeth’s Gavin Andrews picked up the ball on a bounce at the 14 and streaked into the end zone.
The Blue Jays scored one more time on a 50-yard catch by Paulson, but the two-point conversion attempt was stuffed, keeping Seaford needing two more scores. They did not get the ball back after that touchdown.
St. Elizabeth improved to 11-1. They will meet Laurel on Dec. 10 at Delaware Stadium at a time to be announced. The Vikings will be making their seventh championship-game appearance; they are 3-3 in their previous six opportunities.
Seaford finished the season 8-4.
All photos by Mike Lang.