The Caesar Rodney High School football team was unable to get out of the first round of the state tournament, but that doesn't mean the program isn't proud of the strides it took during the season to get into the playoffs.

Coming into this season, way back in mid-August, the 2010 Caesar Rodney High School football team was a collection of new faces at skill positions with a few seasoned veterans sprinkled into the roster.

Nobody knew what to expect from this group, as it was to play in a conference against Sussex Central, Sussex Tech and Dover high schools, all expected to be among the better teams in the state this season.

Fast forward three months as the No. 5 Riders walked off the field for the final time this year after losing to No. 4 Salesianum School, 34-7, in the first round of the Division I state tournament, and the fresh-faced group from the summer looked quite different.

“This team competed. This team tried every week, they got better and they worked hard,” Head Coach Mike Schonewolf said. “They did a great job being together as team and teammates, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

“They’ve grown a tremendous amount during the year.”

The first-round game pitted the Riders against the same team it was eliminated by in last year’s playoffs, but it was Sallies’ ball-controlling, clock-eating rush game that kept the CR offense off the field and, in turn, the team’s point total down.

The Sals also took down CR during the regular season, and have now won four straight games in the head-to-head match-up dating back to 2009.

Schonewolf, however, said it never makes it tougher losing to the same opponent consistently, as a loss is a loss either way.

“It’s tough losing, period,” he said. “We’re glad we were able to get in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who we play, bring ’em on.”

One of the new skill position players coming into this season, senior quarterback Seth McFall, might have made the biggest strides in terms of the marathon from training camp to the first round of the tournament.

McFall ran for his life in the backfield all game against a large, aggressive pass rush from the Sallies defense, but avoided sacks with regularity and made several big throws on the run, many times on third and long situations.

Schonewolf called his quarterback’s performance “gutty,” “gritty” and overall just “outstanding.”

It was the team, McFall said, that should be most proud of how it played as it transformed itself from a bunch of newcomers to a playoff-caliber squad.

“We had all these new starters, and to make it this far … to be able to come up and play a good team, the score doesn’t show it but I think we stuck with them and played a really tough game,” he said.

Just moments after the game ended, McFall was already reflecting on the progression his team made through the season and said it was an amazing experience to be a part of.

“Even though we lost, I couldn’t be more proud of how we played this season,” he said. “Even though it was a loss, we stuck in there. We acted like gentlemen, I think.

“I’m just really glad I got a chance to play with this team.”

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