The Division I DIAA Football State Tournament begins this weekend and when it kicks off, the Dover Senators won’t just be a participant in this year’s tournament, they'll have a first round bye.
After finishing the season 9-1 overall, the Senators were named the No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament, earning a break during the opening round and a semifinal home playoff game.
Dover had a standout year on the gridiron, backed by an electric offense led by Jordan Magee and Javon Peace who’ve proven to be one of the most dangerous pairings in the entire state.
Heading into the state tournament for the first time since 2013, the Senators are hoping to make some noise and perhaps mark the beginning of a great run for the program under head coach Rudy Simonetti.
Dover was one of just three teams with one loss or less among Division I schools and their explosive offense has been one of the catalysts for their strong season.
Entering the final week of the regular season, only Hodgson had scored more points on the year but the Senators surpassed them after week 10, leading DI in scoring with 438 total points.
Throughout the year, Dover has proven the can light up the scoreboard, scoring 35 or more points in all but one game this season, while also topping 50 points three times and even reaching 62 points in a blowout win over St. Georges Tech.
Perhaps their most impressive win of the year came a few weeks ago against the three-time defending state champions, Smyrna. The Senators went toe-to-toe with the Eagles, trading points in a shootout Dover would eventually win, 46-38. The win seemingly ended the year for Smyrna, who went on to lose their next to games to Sussex Tech (61-6) and Salesianum (35-16).
After coming away with the second seed in this year’s tournament, the Senators must now wait to find out who their opponent will be in the semifinal round next week.
The opening round Friday night features two games, including No. 4 Middletown hosting No. 5 Salesianum and No. 6 Appoquinimink traveling south to take on No. 3 Sussex Central.
However the first round shakes out, Dover will play the highest remaining seed which means they can play everyone but No. 6 Appo in the semifinals. If No. 3 Sussex Central knocks off the Jaguars, they’ll travel to Dover next Friday night - if Appo somehow pulls off the upset, the Senators will welcome the winner of Middletown and Salesianum.
No. 1 Hodgson, who finished undefeated on the season at 10-0, can play everyone but Sussex Central in their semifinal matchup next Saturday morning. If the Golden Knights get by the Jaguars, it will be Hodgson who will play the winner of Middletown/Salesianum.
No. 3 Sussex Central (9-1) v. No .6 Appoquinimink (6-4) - Friday 7:30 p.m.
This season was a rollercoaster ride for Appoquinimink, who used a hot second half to earn their first-ever Division I playoff spot and their first playoff berth since making the DII tournament back in 2010.
At the halfway point of the season, Appo found themselves sitting at 2-3, needing to turn things around in a hurry. In the second half, they responded, going on to win four of their final five games to clinch their spot.
Despite early season losses to Caesar Rodney (5-5), St. Georges Tech (5-5) and a tough one against Middletown, Appo was able salvage the first half earning what turned out to be a huge win in the standings over Sussex Tech (6-4). They’d go on to dominate Brandywine, Newark and Concord before falling to 5-4 after a loss to Hodgson. Needing a win in their season finale, the Jags posted a gutsy effort, winning 14-0 over William Penn in a game they had to have.
The Jags enter the postseason a battled tested squad, having matched up against teams at .500 or above in half of their games over the regular season.
They’ll need to use that experience on Friday night if they’re to advance, taking on a very tough Sussex Central team.
The Golden Knights finished with just one blemish on their record this season, a 26-6 loss against Hodgson in their season opener.
Since starting the season 0-1, Central has been one of the hottest teams in the state, winning nine in a row heading into the opening round of the tournament. Over their nine game winning streak, Central outscored their opponents 326-15, including two blowout victories over Dover and defending champ Smyrna.
The Golden Knights are a tough home opponent as well; not only have they gone undefeated at home this season, they haven’t allowed a point on their home field in over eight quarters.
No. 4 Middletown (8-2) v. No. 5 Salesianum (8-2) - Friday 7:30 p.m.
While Middletown just missed out on a first round bye after falling in their season finale to Hodgson in a close one, 14-7, the Cavaliers enter the playoffs as one of the more dangerous teams.
Taking away a road loss in Florida to the No. 4 ranked team in the country, IMG Academy, Middletown’s only slip up was a one possession loss to the state’s only undefeated team.
The Cavaliers finished the season with 346 points, only Hodgson (421) and Dover (438) scored more during the regular season. Only three teams in Division I, Salesianum (103), Hodgson (76) and Sussex Central (41) allowed less points against than Middletown’s 110.
Middletown opened the season winning their first six games, including a 34-7 win over their opponent Friday night, Salesianum. They closed things out winning eight games and while that wasn’t good enough for a bye, it will give the Cavaliers a home game this weekend in a rematch against Sallies.
Salesianum enters the first round matchup with Middletown backed by their usual strengths, a strong rushing attack and stifling defense.
Sallies had Division I’s third ranked defense, behind Hodgson and Sussex Central and kept all but one opponent (Middletown) to 16 points or less, including three shutout victories.
This will be the first time Middletown and Salesianum will meet in the postseason since 2015 when Sallies defeated Middletown 27-21 to go to the state championship game. The two rivals will meet in the postseason for the fifth time since 2006 on Friday night, but this will be the first such meeting over that time to occur in the opening round of the tournament.
After first round games this Friday night, the semifinals will be set for next week - No. 2 Dover will host their semifinal game on Friday, Nov. 23 while No. 1 Hodgson will host their semifinal game the following day, Saturday, Nov. 24 at 11 a.m.
The 2018 Division I DIAA Football State Championship will be played at the University of Delaware on Saturday, Dec. 1 or Sunday, Dec. 2.