While both the Dover Senators and Polytech Panthers fell on the wrong end of their contests last week, they'll meet Friday night in Dover for an intriguing game between a rising Panther program and a Senators squad hoping to turn things around.
This Friday night, two Henlopen North teams will do battle heading in opposite directions.
After several years or more of futility, the Polytech Panthers have had a breakout season on the gridiron, while their neighbors the Dover Senators have struggled through injuries led mostly by a younger lineup.
With only three games remaining, Dover hopes to find a silver-lining in their season by earning their first conference victory of the season in front of a homecoming crowd.
Even in just a 10 game schedule, the season is full of ups and downs every team must navigate through. For Dover, hampered by injuries, it’s been a tough season. Though, despite being without some important players, Senators’ Head Coach Rudy Simonetti has been proud of his team’s effort this season.
“Due to key injuries we’ve fielded a young team this year,” Simonetti said. “ I see many positives; relentless effort from the kids, our young guys are gaining varsity experience and learning how to become varsity football players, we are at times explosive - we just need to learn to put together a full four quarters of football.”
While many struggling teams fail to score points, that hasn’t been the case for the Senators, who have scored 20 or more points in six of their seven games this season.
Their offense will be tested by a stingy Polytech defense on Friday night.
Winning five of their first seven games, the Panthers’ defense had allowed 10 points or less in wins over Milford, Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen and Laurel.
Polytech has also shown the ability to put points on the board, as well. They scored 39 points against Indian River and 21 against Laurel, both double-digit victories. Though, perhaps the best quality in this year’s Panthers’ team has been their ability to win close games.
Aside from 18 and 14 points victories this season, three of their wins have come by a combined 13 points.
“It has been a pleasant surprise to the staff seeing us pull out the close games this year - I tell the kids all the time how proud of them we are as a staff to battle through adversity during the game and still be able to come out on top,” said Polytech Head Coach Kevin Smith. “ Again, I attribute this to our senior leadership. They’ve been holding each other and the team accountable.”
For Smith, his team’s play this season has shown just how much they’ve grown on and off the football field.
“It’s good to see, from a staff standpoint, kids grow up and take responsibility and ownership on their actions,” Smith said. “ I’m very proud of what this team and program has become - I can only hope that it will continue in the future.”
Another good sign for the Panthers’ program his how Smith’s young team has handled the pressure of success. Remember, despite falling to 5-2 after a loss to Sussex Central last week, this is a program that was just 1-19 over the past two seasons heading into the 2017 campaign.
“The guys have really soaked in the recent success and have been pretty loose at practice, that’s great to see from the staff,” Smith said. “ They’re not letting the recent success put added pressure on themselves - I see the kids responding well and excited about the start. In their high school football careers, they haven’t been in this situation this late in the year, but with the tremendous senior leadership that we have, I feel confident they are ready for the moment.”
While Dover is on the outside looking in, they can gaze across the field Friday night and see that things can turnaround. There are many challenges ahead if they hope to change their fortunes moving forward, but they’ll head into their homecoming game looking to start the upturn now.
“No doubt, they will be very tough; our conference is very competitive,” Simonetti said. “ I’ll be looking for maximum effort from our kids for a full four quarters.”