Milford quiets Indians in three-way race to conference title

The annual match-up between Delmar and Indian River varsity football has been a division decider for years, but after Indian River’s 16-24 demise last Friday to Milford, the Southern Henlopen Conference is still up for grabs for all three teams.

Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert: The Indian River defense posted some respectable numbers despite losing to Milford on Friday, Oct. 10.Coastal Point • Ruslana Lambert
The Indian River defense posted some respectable numbers despite losing to Milford on Friday, Oct. 10.

Two weeks ago, Delmar dropped their first conference loss of the season to the Indians. If Delmar comes through with a win next week, on Oct. 24, when they host Milford, it will likely put all three teams at a conference tie.

Meanwhile, the Indians still have plenty to focus on as they head into a slew of division matchups rounding out the season. They can’t let a speedbump like Milford trip them up as they prepare for Lake Forest on Friday, Oct. 17.

“We found that we were not prepared mentally two weeks in a row,” said Indians head coach Jim Bunting. “We were for Delmar, and it showed. But we looked flat [at Milford], and there was an uneasy feeling as we got up there last Friday.”

From the start, things weren’t going the way the Indians anticipated, as an opening kickoff return lit up the scoreboard for the Milford Buccaneers. They quickly followed that with a pick-six for a comfortable lead.

Defensively, the Indians still maintained impressive numbers. Shelby Dolby and Cody Cooke each made seven tackles, while Devon Showell, Tim Wood, Ken Kelly and Zach Kmezt combined for 18 more.

It was on the other side of the ball where Bunting’s team started to struggle. The typical ground domination from Cody Cooke, Elijah Foreman and Tyree Oliver was heavily anticipated by the Buccaneers’ defense. Cooke’s 18 carries only netted him 69 yards all game – barely half of what he accumulated in the first half alone against Delmar just a week earlier. He and freshman quarterback Jamie Jarmon each recorded a rushing touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to knock off Milford.

“Our guys and Milford have been going against each other for a number of years,” said Bunting, “and we knew things were shaky from the start. If you have to blow smoke at your guys at that moment you walk onto the field, it’s never a good sign.” Bunting noted that Milford’s a powerful team and, that night, they wanted the win more.

“They’re a good team with a solid game plan,” added co-captain Zach Kmetz. “We couldn’t execute, and that night, Milford wanted it more. The week before that, we were on top of the world. Milford brought us back down to earth, and that’s going to make us fight that much harder this week.”

Now, despite the intensity and clashing rivalry that has always surfaced between the Indians and Delmar, the animosity will have to be lifted as Indian River hopes for a Delmar victory next week.

“It sounds strange,” Bunting noted, “but we need Delmar’s help.”

With a three-way tie, the conference champions will be crowned based on score spreads.

“We’ve got our own jobs that week,” said Kmetz. “We don’t even want to hear the score when they announce it during our game. We need to stay focused.”

The Indians themselves will have their own task this Friday, as Lake Forest travels to Dagsboro.

“We have to come out Friday and make it an impressive win,” said Bunting. “We have to take care of business and do it early. We need to prove to people that the first five weeks, and we weren’t a fluke. We had a hiccup last week and we’re back and ready to get that title.”

In preparation, Bunting is sticking to what he knows and refusing to stray from his habitual coaching styles.

“Our guys are not changing anything. We’ve looked at the film,” he said, “and our kids were in the places they were supposed to be. Milford was bigger and faster. When something like this happens, you just congratulate them, wish them luck in their next game, and turn around and prepare yourself for yours. Our guys know what we have to do. We were beat by a more prepared team, so have to get that prepared.”

Jarmon’s interception was only the second of the season, and Bunting insisted that, although their offensive strategy and play calling changed, it’s nothing to be discouraged about.

“Jamie’s brought this team so far already, and that’s not easy to do as a freshman,” he said. “We thought it was going to be Delmar that tested him, but it was Milford. Their defense went to a 5-4, and they had guys shooting every snap. They made him work. You can’t dwell on one play alone. He still fought back.”

In the upcoming game, Bunting added that some of the junior varsity guys will test their capabilities with the big leagues, as the team has some injuries to tend to.

Junior middle linebacker Rocky Whitley will be out this week after he separated his shoulder the second play of last week’s game. Outside linebacker Sean Lynch will be working off of past injuries, and his suiting up this Friday is still in question. Free safety Tim Wood had been suffering back spasms at practice, which may limit his playing time this weekend. Senior offensive guard and defensive tackle Luke Long has been nursing a laceration on his finger, but is expected to play on Friday.

“A lot of our guys are getting beat up and banged around,” said Bunting. “Our JV guys are coming to the table hungry, and a number of them will get a shot.”

Indian River’s roster will get their shot at Lake Forest this Friday, Oct. 17, with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

“This is our homecoming game,” Kmetz noted. “We’ve got to bring our focus. We’ll have a huge crowd supporting us, but we have to want to win.”