With one regular-season game remaining before the DIAA state tournament begins, the Indian River Indians (8-1, 5-1) will be tested on how well they stack up against playoff-caliber teams when they host Northern Henlopen Conference stalwarts the Sussex Central Golden Knights (8-1, 6-0) on Nov. 9.
The Indians average 37.8 points scored per game this but have struggled in games against better teams, according to Indians head coach Jim Bunting. So their game against Sussex Central should let them know where they stand heading into this year’s state tournament.
“Concord beat us up pretty good in the first round of last year’s tournament (30-0 IR loss). And even though we gave Delmar a pretty good run (28-21 IR loss), we still lost. So this will be a huge game for us,” Bunting said.
Indian River lost to Delmar 35-14 this season, and Bunting expressed a desire this week to show the rest of the state that Indian River can and will be a force to be reckoned with in this year’s state tournament.
“Sussex Central is a good test, heading into the state tournament,” Bunting said. “If we can play well or beat Sussex Central, that will certainly send a message to everyone up-state and put us in the mood.”
But, to beat Sussex Central, Bunting believes that his team must do three things: (1) be able to spread out the Golden Knights’ defense with an effective passing game and complement it with a balanced running attack, (2) the offensive line must give Nick Kmetz time to pass, and (3) the defense must read and react quickly to Sussex Central’s offense.
Offensively, Bunting said he believes that his team can be effective against any team in the state, because a spread offense forces a defense to cover and respect every player on the field, which ultimately opens up natural holes where they can gain yards.
If the defense neglects to cover the receivers, to defend the run or to blitz, then someone will inevitably wind up open to make a play, he said. If they cover each receiver, then that means there are fewer defenders near the line of scrimmage to defend the run between the tackles.
“If our line gives Nick time, then that will back their linebackers up and will open up our running game,” Bunting said.
“Defensively, we have to see the keys and make plays,” he added.
Bunting expressed some concern that his defensive players were still relying too much on the coaching staff for assignments and alignments during practice. That should be second-nature by this point in the season, he said.
“Coach Norton [defensive coordinator] knows where to put kids on the field, but as I’ve told the boys, ‘He’s not going to be in the huddle or on the field with you,’ and that they need to have their assignments ingrained by now,” Bunting said.
Sussex Central’s wing-T offense is powered by the running back tandem of Monte Murray and Zeno Williams, both of whom hold an average of 100 yards per game and have scored at least 10 touchdowns each.
“Sussex Central has some skilled players at skill positions and they have a big line up front,” Bunting emphasized this week.
Indian River will host Sussex Central Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m.