WILMINGTON – Dalton Gregory's one-yard, fourth-down plunge in overtime lifted Salesianum to a 41-35 victory over Caesar Rodney in a wild, back-and-forth contest Saturday night at Baynard Stadium. The game pitted the state's second- and third-ranked teams and was much-anticipated and did not disappoint.
The Sals (1-0) scored on their first possession in overtime after stopping the Riders' attempt. In high school, each team gets four downs from the 10-yard line in each round of overtime. Gregory's score from three feet out seemed out of place on a night that featured big play after big play, on the ground and in the air.
Gregory nearly did not get a chance to win the game. On the Sals' first-down play, senior running back Troy Reeder fumbled but was able to spin around and pounce on the loose ball. Reeder, who appeared to be suffering from cramps much of the evening, then left the game. Gregory took the next three carries, the final one into the end zone.
That touchdown broke the fifth tie of the night. The game was knotted at 7, 14, 21, 28 and 35. Neither team led by more than seven points. CR led by a touchdown on four different occasions.
Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo was thrilled to see his team rebound so many times during the game.
“I'm so happy with our kids' resiliency today,” DiNardo said. “They showed so much resilience. We were behind the entire game other than the first quarter. We kept fighting back and fighting back, and when we had to make big plays, we did. I'm so proud. We had so many kids make so many contributions.”.
The contest had a little bit of everything offensively, and the fireworks started early. Reeder scored on a pair of four-yard runs, while wideout Brian O'Neill caught a 42-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Sgro for a touchdown, and he also pulled in a 45-yard pass later in the game. Tyler Marroni caught a 39-yard touchdown pass and was called for excessive celebration for high-stepping into the end zone. That reception brought the Sals to within 28-27, but the penalty made the point-after attempt a 35-yard kick. O'Neill nailed that one. Reeder, Gregory and Evander Blue each gained significant yardage on the ground; Gregory finished with 104 yards.
For the Riders (0-1), quarterback Alex Kemp and running back Naquan Watkins provided much of the offensive production. Kemp hit for passes of 44, 33, 67, 23, 48 and 27 yards, and he added two touchdown runs. Watkins rushed for 120 yards and scored the Riders' last touchdown with 11.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
The game also included two missed field goals by Caesar Rodney and one by the Sals, and Salesianum was called for seven unsportsmanlike penalties, something DiNardo said cannot be repeated.
“That's not us, and we've got to be better than that. It was foolish penalties that we shouldn't get. We can't give away yards like that,” he said.
O'Neill, who finished with 113 receiving yards, said this was the kind of game Salesianum expected against a quality opponent.
“They hit us every single down, every play. We give all the credit to them, they're a great team. They're very well-coached and played a great game. We just tried to keep a positive attitude, keep our heads up the whole time, and basically just stick to what we were doing because we knew at some point it was going to work,” he said.
Salesianum is on the road next Saturday at 1 p.m. against William Penn, while Caesar Rodney welcomes top-ranked Middletown Friday night at 7:30.