Conference title on the line in early heated matchup
It’s been three years since the Indian River football program has recorded a season win over southern rivals Delmar. For the past two years, the Wildcats captured the Henlopen Southern division championship thanks to victories over the Indians. In those years, the Indians have entered the matchup with an undefeated record. But head coach Jim Bunting is confident that his 4-0 team this year has the skill and preparation they need to continue their flawless performance this Friday toward the state title.
Following up on last Friday’s 35-13 victory against Woodbridge, the Indians proved once again that they possess versatility and strength well into their roster.
With starting sophomore running back Elijah Foreman working off the last bit of an ankle injury from several weeks prior, senior backs Cody Cooke and Tyree Oliver demonstrated that they are very capable of moving the ball on the ground, as well. Cooke and Oliver teamed up for a combined 257 yards, 140 of which came from Oliver on 13 attempts, resulting in a touchdown. Cooke came away with 117 yards and three touchdowns, a personal best in a single game this season. Foreman had 26 rushing yards in the win.
Freshman quarterback Jamie Jarmon connected with senior tight end Zach Kmetz for two completions. Kmetz also had a rushing touchdown of his own against Woodbridge.
Bunting stood by his philosophy at Tuesday’s practice, explaining, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” In last Friday’s matchup, not a single Woodbridge defensive lineman made a tackle. They came instead from the linebackers and safety – a testament to Indian River’s offensive line.
“To me,” said Bunting, “that’s a great compliment to our line. We were getting what we needed on the ground. Jamie [Jarmon] has been doing great for us, but if we can push 20 to 30 yards on each set of downs with a couple of handoffs, there’s no sense in making Jamie work harder than he has to. We’re not a smashmouth team, but as long as it works, we’re going to run the ball at you and do what we do well.”
IR’s counters against quick running backs at Woodbridge and Stephen Decatur have readied the squad for their toughest challenge yet: Delmar senior Trevin Jackson.
“We were pleased with how our ‘D’ has handled other offenses and running backs so far,” said Bunting. “We’re going to see that speed again with Jackson.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Norton is hoping to anticipate the right calls under the Friday-night lights.
“They run their offense every year,” he said, “and, most of the time, it’s the same four plays they like to use, and they’re very good at them. If we stop those plays, we’ll be alright.”
Cooke, middle linebacker Cory Showalter, defensive end Shelby Dolby and outside linebacker Sean Lynch combined for 22 tackles against Woodbridge. Norton hopes to bring the same intensity, despite an injury that may bench Lynch this Friday.
“We’re strong throughout,” Norton said, “Jackson will probably be the best back we’ll see all season. He’s a smart runner and can cut through the holes. It’s going to come down to can we tackle him. We know he’ll get the ball 25 times. Our guys need to stop him. We’ve got a lot of kids back from last year’s team, and I’d like to think we’re a better and more experienced team due to that.”
Bunting has had the squad ready for whatever the Wildcats bring.
“They like to run an option and double dive,” he said. “We have to meet them at the line of scrimmage and meet them with an attitude. [Delmar head coach] David Hearn does what he does, and he does well. We want our people in the right places. This time, they need to bring a little more. We have to want it more this week.”
River’s defense has been practicing against a variety of formations, including the strong-I, full-house backfield and shotgun, with expectations of bringing it all together by Friday.
“We’re mixing it up,” he stated, “but we have to prepare for anything.”
Hearn, who’s coached the Delmar team since the early 1990’s, has quite a reputation to maintain, looking to capture a third consecutive undefeated season.
“It has turned into a fun rivalry with Indian River,” he said, “and that’s carried across all sports. It gets the players and fans excited. IR’s program has been really solid for the past six to seven years, and there’s nothing too new this year.
“This will be our first conference game that really poses a challenge. Their team is loaded with talent, all the way to the athletes in the backfield. Everyone’s aggressive. Bunting has all the things it takes to make a title team,” Hearn added.
As for his own team, Hearn expects to continue his success.
“We’ve got some young players,” he said, “and we need to make sure they understand the intensity of a game like this. Playing at home, we should have a great crowd. It’s a great motivator to get the kids working hard, and it’s a challenge for us.”
As for Jackson, Hearn is banking on another impressive performance.
“He’s one of those athletes that makes a coach look good,” said Hearn. “He does stuff you can’t teach. We’ve been lucky to have kids like him come up through our program, and we’ve maintained a balance attack over the years.”
Both teams have put up impressive numbers. The Indians have only let up 48 points in four games, including a shutout two weeks ago against Washington. The Delmar Wildcats have scored an averaged of nearly 38 points in their first four games this year. The scores in the past, however, can’t be a distraction for the Indian River team.
“It doesn’t matter how many points they’ve scored,” said Cooke. “It is going to be tough game, but it will be fun, and we’re going to give everything we have and come out victorious.”
“We have to look at them as Delmar,” said Bunting, “just another conference game for us to win. There’s an expectance called ‘pride’ here. We play for 48 minutes, and we know what they do. We expect to play all four quarters. The fourth is the one that tells us how much conditioning we’ve done out here – how much effort we put into the offseason. It’s the time in the game when all the dividends are going to pay.”
Co-captain Zach Kmetz is confident in the unity of the team.
“We need to follow through with our plays,” he said. “It’s going to start with the front line. If the front line blocks well, the rest will come with it. We want to avoid turnovers and senseless penalties. [Trevin] Jackson is one of best running backs in state, but if we do what we have to do and follow what our coaches tell us, we’ll come out with the win.”
“In the last five years,” Bunting recalled, “the conference championship has been decided in the game between us and Delmar. Why should anything change this week? We’re both going in 4-0 and we have a billing for the conference, and everyone knows that. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this is our biggest game of the season.”
The game is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 3, at Delmar’s Francis E. Nunvar Field.