This Friday night, the majority of the state will open the 2017 high school football season with their first games of the regular season.
Entering the season, Division I schools are all trying to catch the two-time defending state champion Smyrna Eagles, while the Division II defending champion, Woodbridge, looks to repeat.
Opener: Friday, 7:30 p.m. v. Smyrna (Harvest Bowl)
Last season the Cavaliers had yet another standout season on the gridiron, finishing a perfect 10-0 during the regular season while advancing to the Division I DIAA Football State Championship Game.
However, despite the strong campaign, Middletown failed to win their fourth title since 2007, falling to the now two-time defending state champion, Smyrna Eagles, 36-14.
The title game loss also marked the end of an era as longtime head coach Mark DelPercio stepped aside to take on new challenges, opening the door for Middletown assistant, Zach Blum, who takes the reins in 2017.
The Cavaliers head into Friday’s opener without several standouts from last season, including graduates Anthony DelPercio, Spencer Harbert, Chris Weatherford, Jalen Whitehead, Shane Wilkins and Trey Austin.
Though, even without many of the players that helped the Cavaliers reach three of the last four state title games, they return playmakers on both ends of the ball as well as the majority of their offensive and defensive lines.
Middletown will kick-off their season with a bang Friday night when they host the Smyrna Eagles in a rematch of last year’s title game along with the rebirth of the Harvest Bowl.
“What a great way to kick-off the season, the Harvest Bowl as the start to the Middletown football season is how I remember it as a Little Cavalier,” said Middletown Head Coach Zach Blum. “We’re very excited for our guys to share in that tradition and write their own chapter; Friday should be as good an atmosphere as there will be for a Delaware HIgh School Football Game.”
“We’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure the best fans in the state are ‘ringing those bells.’”
Opener: Friday, 7 p.m. v. Caesar Rodney
The Appoquinimink Jaguars ready for a new season, fresh off a positive showing in 2016. Last season, the Jags navigated their way through a tough schedule to finish at .500, with a 5-5 mark.
Four of their five losses came to playoff teams, including Concord who was knocked out in the first round and William Penn who advanced to the state semifinals. Also on that list were state runner-up Middletown and the two-time defending state champs, Smyrna.
The Jags had to part ways with several graduates, including Jackson Truitt, Emmanuel Kenion, Akeem Miller, Jayson Jeffers, Noah Given and Kenyon Yellowdy.
On Friday night, the Jags will open their season at home against Caesar Rodney, once one of the top teams in the Henlopen Conference.
Over the past few seasons, the Riders have fallen on hard times, finishing the 2016 season with a record of 1-9. Their only victory came against another struggling Henlopen squad, Polytech.
The Riders will be eager to put last year behind them and play spoiler in the Jags’ home opener.
St. Georges Tech Hawks
Opener: Friday, 7 p.m. @ Howard (@ Baynard Stadium)
After several successful campaigns on the football field over the years, combined with an ever growing student body, St. Georges Tech’s football program is making the jump from Division II to Division I in 2017.
Last season, the Hawks posted another winning record, going 8-2 during the regular season before making a strong run in the postseason. In the opening round, St. Georges Tech took down Delaware Military Academy, 27-14, before being eliminated by the eventual DII runner-up, Wilmington Friends.
St. Georges Tech lost only nine seniors from last year’s squad, including Jason Stewart and Douglas Phillips, to name a few, however the returnees and newcomers must come to play this season as the Hawks embark on a DI schedule.
With a low number of underclassmen on the squad, the Hawks must lean heavily on their large core of seniors.
“The major change we have had to mak is the adjustment to Division I -- Our incoming ninth grade class has only 16 kids; our sophomore class has seven kids that are varsity, so we lack depth,” said St. Georges Tech Head Coach J.D. Maull. “Our strength is that we have 23 seniors who have a lot of experience.”
While they’ll open up their schedule against DII school Howard Friday night at Baynard Stadium in Wilmington, the Hawks will face-off against all DI teams the rest of the way.
The Hawks will take on the likes of Caesar Rodney and Dover from the Henlopen Conference along with conference matchups against Appoquinimink, Delcastle, Newark, Concord, Hodgson, William Penn and Middletown.
“We are not familiar with a lot of teams in Flight A,” Maull said. “We’ve never played Concord, Newark Middletown or Appo.”