It was an eye-opener and an ego-deflater. The best high school football team in Delaware played the best high school team in Florida and got schooled — Middletown traveled to Bradenton, Fla., and was thumped 52-7 by IMG Academy.
This isn’t a shot at Middletown, or any football team in Delaware. It’s just a fact that the vast majority of teams from our fair state get waxed when they go beyond our borders and play out-of-state competition.
Middletown certainly deserves its No. 1 ranking in Delaware. The Cavaliers have demolished all of their in-state competition so far, winning their six games by an average score of 41-7. And that includes dominating victories over four teams ranked in the News Journal’s Top 10 — Smyrna (41-20), St. George’s (49-7), Appoquinimink (35-0) and Salesianum (34-7).
So, the Cavaliers have already proven they have the best team in Delaware, and it’s not even close. But, when they traveled out of state, well, that wasn’t close, either. In fact, that blowout was played with a running clock with 8:38 left in third quarter and IMG Academy mercifully pulled its starters, or it could have been a lot worse.
Again, this isn’t a shot at Middletown or even our fair state. The Cavs had to travel a long distance and play a great team and they played their hearts out. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
“They’re one of the best football teams in the country for a reason,” Middletown coach Zach Blum told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune after the game. “I’m proud of our guys from coming down here and competing. For the first quarter, we went nose-to-nose with them. Then, by gosh, they just keep bringing guys in and we weren’t able to match those guys.
“We take a lot from it. Not that we didn’t know our guys would compete, but when you match yourself up, I told these guys we’re going to put our cards on the table and our money where our mouth is and see where we match up against one of the best, if not the best, high school football program in the nation. We’re going to find out just where we stack up.”
IMG Academy coach Kevin Wright was kind to the Cavaliers and he, too, appreciated their effort in a hopeless cause.
“They’re a good football team,” Wright said. “We figured they’d have a little bit of success at some point in the game. But we’re superior physically. We were able to get after them early.
“We did what we should have done,” Wright added.
And it’s just a simple truth that almost all out-of-state teams would do the same thing, especially football factory states like Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Ohio. If you don’t believe that, watch a Texas high school game on ESPN2 sometime. They play in massive stadiums in front of 20,000 fans and their offenses look like the Los Angeles Rams’. Then watch a Delaware high school game and you’ll see that most of them are still three yards and a cloud of dust. The players just aren’t as good and their offenses aren’t as sophisticated.
That doesn’t mean Delaware doesn’t have its share of top-level athletes, especially per capita. Currently, Elena Delle Donne is one of the best basketball players in the world, Morgan Hurd is one of the best gymnasts in the world, Donte DiVincenzo was a first-round NBA pick by the Milwaukee Bucks and Chris Godwin is a terrific wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But we just can’t stack up against better teams from bigger states.
Actually, that’s not completely true, and that makes what Salesianum’s soccer team has accomplished even more impressive. In the latest USA Today-United Soccer Coaches poll, the Sals are ranked 15thin the nation, in the most popular sport in the world. In 2016, Sallies finished 6thin the nation and three years before that they were ranked No. 2 and beat No. 1 St. Benedict that season.
But in sports like football and basketball, we just can’t match states that are bigger and better. And that’s why Middletown deserves credit for going outside the state and its comfort zone to take on a team the Cavs knew were much better than them.
“We’re going to be very proud of that,” Blum said. “We’re going to play some good football teams when we go back to Delaware, but nobody quite like this.”