Aside from a state playoff game or an eventual state championship game, there might not be a more important Division II football game for the Indian River Indians than when they host Delmar tonight.
Granted, Laurel’s (3-1, 1-0) football program has improved and could make a play for the Southern Division title. But as any coach will agree, the most important game is the one that you play next.
So, with that said, no game will be more important than tonight’s as the Indians continue their journey to reclaim the Southern Division title.
Last season, the Wildcats defeated the Indians 28-21 and broke their streak of three consecutive Southern Division titles, dating back to 2003.
This season, both teams are 4-0 and have displayed explosive but contrasting offenses. Indian River has scored 166 points for an average of 41.5 points per game thus far, in their first year operating the spread offense.
Senior quarterback Nick Kmetz has been cerebral in the pocket and his receivers have thrived so far. There hasn’t been a team yet that can slow their aerial attack. Kmetz has a near perfect 164.8 passer rating while completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 674 yards, with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
Danny Bokinsky has reeled in a team-high four touchdown passes and has established himself as a legitimate deep-threat target. He’s averaged 35 yards per reception and 42 yards per touchdown reception.
Trevor Abbott, Zack Kmetz and Rob Disharoon, on the other hand, have thrived on running intermediate routes and have been integral in moving the chains in situations where the Indians needed a chuck of yards for a first down.
Indians head coach Jim Bunting has been pleased with how his players have been willing to share the ball and, more importantly, run hard, precise patterns to open up opportunities for their teammates to make plays offensively — a key to their offensive success this season.
“The receivers know that when they run a precise pattern it makes it easier for Nick,” Bunting said. “They go hard every time, because they know that it will result in them catching the ball or it will open up an area of the field for one of their teammates to make a play. And if they don’t, then it throws our timing off.”
The Indians’ spread offense is a far cry from Indian River offenses in the past, where they lined up and ran right at defenses with a power running attack and complimented it with a moderate passing attack. Teams were then able to pack seven, eight and nine defenders in the box to stop the run.
This season, their spread offense has opened up the field considerably and has left opponents with the difficult task of trying to mark everyone on the field, from sideline to sideline, while still defending against the running game.
Through four games, Indian River has had 10 different players score offensive touchdowns. And, despite the appearance of the spread offense, the running game has been very effective, scoring 13 touchdowns.
Between the power running of Cody Cooke and first-year player Jeremy Purnell; Kmetz tucking it when he sees daylight on option plays; and the speed of Justin Kraft, Elijah Foreman and Disharoon, Indian River has a well-balanced running game.
The trick to stopping Indian River’s offense, according to Delmar head coach David Hearn, is a two pronged strategy: stop the big play and control the time of possession when the Wildcats have the ball on offense.
“You can’t cover it all,” he said. “It’s more a matter of can you contain them.”
Defensively, Delmar wants to pressure Kmetz into making mistakes — because “if you give him time, he’ll kill you” — and to limit long drives and avoid quick scores.
Hearn mentioned that, to do that, they’ll need to execute on offense and dominate the time of possession to keep the Indians offense off the field.
“We can’t allow them to have the ball for extended periods of time,” he said. “We got to eat up some clock [when on offense].”
And to do that, Delmar has its own high-powered offense to lean on.
Delmar’s offense has put up 160 points — six fewer than Indian River — and that includes three wins with a margin of victory of at least 30 points.
Offensively, they aren’t flashy but they are very good at what they do, which is run the ball.
“There isn’t a magic formula,” Bunting said. “They just go out and do it.”
Tevin Jackson currently ranks at the high end of state rushers, with 542 rushing yards for an average of 133 rushing yards per game, 12 yards per carry and nine touchdowns. Bunting described him as fast on film, which means he’s really fast.
“The thing he gives us is big-play potential,” Hearn said. “He has the kind of speed that once he gets into the secondary he can make things happen.”
In addition, Delmar also has fullback Justin Thomas, as well as a host of other backs, to supplement the running attack. Thomas is by far the most imposing and will certainly see carries between the tackles and in short yardage situations. Hearn also listed Jeremy Layton and Taylor Ballard, who ran for 100 yards in their 38-8 win over Archmere Academy, as well as quarterback Matt Campbell, as viable contributors in the running game.
Indian River’s defense has reverted from a hybrid front that employed eight linebacker-types staggered in various positions inside the box to a traditional front – in part to help stop the run. Now they have Joe Saragino, Purnell and Cooke starting along the defensive line, with Foreman, Shelby Dolby, Luke Long and Mike Melson contributing as well.
Indian River’s secondary, on the other hand, has been a strong point for their defense. They’ve accounted for seven interceptions — and eight including count Zack Kmetz’s 65-yard interception return for a touchdown made from his linebacker position in a 42-16 win over Stephen Decatur.
“They’re smart and they know how to cover,” Bunting said.
And smart play by the defensive backs means that Indian River’s front eight defensive players can concentrate on stopping Delmar’s potent running game.
“I think [winning] this game is going to come down to who wants it more,” Bunting said. “The game is made up of a lot of plays and if we win more than we lose — because we are going to lose a few downs — then we can win the game.”
The X-factor in the game could be on special teams. Delmar kicker Sean Benson hasn’t been very accurate on extra points (8-16) and hasn’t even attempted a field goal. Indian River’s Luke Wingate, on the other hand, leads the state in points scored by a kicker (26), is perfect on extra points (20-20) and is 2-2 on field goal attempts — including the game-winner in their 34-31 overtime win in their regular-season opener.