At the halfway point of the high school football season, few had the Polytech Panthers penciled in as possible contenders in the Henlopen Conference.
After multiple seasons of futility, including winning just one game combined over the past two years, the Panthers have already made vast improvements in 2017.
After five weeks of football the Panthers have won four games, dwarfing just one victory over the past two seasons combined.
On Friday night, they won their fourth game in a row, coming from behind to defeat Cape Henlopen, 13-10.
The Panthers at one time trailed 10-0 in the second half, but rallied to earn the victory.
Cape led 3-0 at halftime after Hunter Simmons field goal opened the scoring in the first quarter. Early in the second half, Kolbi Wright broke off a 10-yard run for a touchdown giving the Vikings a 10-0 lead.
Polytech cut into the lead just minutes later, when quarterback Vincent Tascione found Doug Reed for a long touchdown reception, cutting the Cape lead to 10-6 after a failed point-after try.
Early in the fourth quarter, Polytech took the lead thanks to a 16-yard touchdown run by AJ Foster.
The Panthers were able to hold the lead but Cape threatened to tie the game with a last second field goal, but Polytech blocked the attempt to claim the win.
Even in a loss, Polytech opened the season with promise, falling to A.I. duPont on the road by just seven points, 28-21. However, after being downed by the Tigers, the Panthers rallied off three straight victories.
First, they outdueled Indian River in a high scoring affair, 39-21, to claim their first victory of the season. Then, Polytech upset Milford, a nine win team a season ago, 16-7, before sneaking past Caesar Rodney in a defensive battle, 7-6, improving to 3-1 on the season.
Having fallen on hard times as a program over the past few seasons, the early turnaround this season is not only a welcome change, but a promising sign for the future of the Polytech program.
“The first [five] weeks have not only been very rewarding for the football program, but the Polytech community as well,” said Polytech Head Coach Kevin Smith. “The coaching staff is very proud of how the team has played.”
Polytech has seen contributions on both ends of the ball, with a talented core of seniors and underclassmen leading the way.
On defense, the likes of Keshon Weems, Zion Downing, Michael Baker and Jacob Hadik have helped lead a group that has allowed just 21 points combined against their last three opponents after allowing 49 points in their first two contests of the year.
Tascione has led the way for the offense under center, showing the ability to be dangerous through the air and on the ground. He’s been backed by wideouts Tucker and Douglas Reed, along with a steady running back crew including Foster Donell Hooker and Chris Gordon.
The combination of players who have been together for a few seasons with Smith and his committed staff, have Polytech looking forward toward better days instead of backward at the down times.
“We’re fortunate to have a very good senior class that has grown up the last couple years and turned into positive and quality leaders,” Smith said. “We also had the best turnout in my four years of coaching at Polytech during our summer workouts - we have a tremendous staff that is knowledgeable and dedicated to Polytech; they’ve been great this year and I’m very proud to have them on staff.”
The Panthers’ schedule moving forward doesn’t get any easier.
Down the stretch, Polytech will take on Sussex Central and Dover on the road before finishing up their regular season schedule with two straight at home against Sussex Tech and defending state champions Smyrna.
“We know that we’re heading into the meat of our schedule, playing the Henlopen North,” Smith said. “ So, yes, we’re happy with the start and the players seem to have gained some confidence that will hopefully carry for the rest of the season.”