Hodgson was setting up for a potential game-tying 2-point conversion in the final moments of their 2018 DIAA Division 1 semifinal with Salesianum, when an unseen piece of laundry stunted their dream of a perfect season.
Quarterback C.J. Henry had just hit Kam’Ryn Thomas on a 54-yard catch-and-run, and the Silver Eagles celebrated in the corner of the end zone, only to have it be ruled excessive in nature by the officials.
The referees and DIAA never publicly announced what the flag was for, but when Hodgson was backed up 15 yards for the ensuing tying attempt, the pass was intercepted, and it was Salesianum, not Hodgson, going to the championship game.
Linebacker Tashawn Fitzgerald remembered leaving the field on that dreary November Saturday afternoon.
“That walk was a pretty depressing moment in my life, and for the team and the coaches who worked hard to get there. We had some ups and downs in the game, but we’ve been working on that this whole time, so that walk won’t happen again.”
Hodgson’s Frank Moffett was wrapping up his 25th year on football sidelines, and said the way the loss ended was a bitter pill to swallow.
“That was tough. It was tough on me, but when I got emotional, it was because I looked around at each one of those kids, especially the upperclassmen, who put in so much work. We set a goal to win Flight A, we did that going 10-0 and getting the No. 1 seed, playing at home and getting a bye. I watched their emotions, those young men fought for four quarters and left it on the field, they came up short. I can say one play, but I told the kids I’ve forgotten about play, it’s in the past, and all I’m concerned about right now is our future.”
The future remains bright for the Silver Eagles, who return players filling 18 of the 22 offensive and defensive slots for last year’s 10-1 team.
Included in that group C.J. Henry, the quarterback who despite being a junior is already a 2-year starter, and Moffett pointed to his play against eventual state champion Sussex Central in last year’s season opener as a sign of Henry’s youthful maturity.
“We win the ballgame, but he had 3 interceptions. I watched his character, where it didn’t faze him and he continued to make plays, and threw a couple of touchdowns. I think he’s one of the all-time passing yardage quarterbacks at Hodgson. There’s just a progression and confidence. When he got confidence, it got contagious around him. I expect him to elevate his game even further this year.”
One of those key players around him is tailback Darius Hale, who missed 5 games in the middle of last season due to injury, but Moffett said his health will be vital.
“He is a load. Darius is physical, he’s a downhill runner. He’s one of those guys when if I need two yards, he’ll get those two yards for me. He’s very excited coming into his senior year after an injury that set him back in the middle of the year. This year through his workout regimen over the summer, his body feels good. He had decent speed, but he’s a bull. He’s 210 pounds right now, but he’s not slow. He’s not a 4.5 kid, but he’s a kid that goes downhill and if you get in his way, he’ll run you over. He wants to get that extra yard, he’s a kid that if he gets hit, he wants more.”
It’s not just opponents who have to deal with Hale.
Fitzgerald, who had a team-high 12 sacks last year, faces Hale most days when Hodgson’s top units go against each other at practice, and said the size and toughness just sharpens his skill.
“He’s big. You say running back, but you look at him and you think he’s a fullback. Just knowing how he is, you’re not going to see that on every team. You’re not going to see a fullback/running back on every team. If I’m able to hit him myself, I know I can hit anyone else.”
It’s a Hodgson team that is sporting the motto “Unfinished Business... no excuses” on team shirts, but linebacker Eric Shimko said it’s a group not forgetting last year against Salesianum, but not wanting to relive it.
“It was awful. It was a heartbreaking feeling that you never want, especially when you are right there. You go through a 10-0 season and all the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication, but it all falls apart, but we’re ready to go this year.”
They’ll be tested right out of the blocks this season, when they host Dover in their season opener on Saturday, September 7. The Silver Eagles hope it’s game one of a 12-game journey through the semifinals, to their first Division 1 state championship.
SILVER EAGLES NOTES: After throwing 3 interceptions in the opener against Sussex Central, Henry tossed just 3 more turnovers the rest of the year, completing 64% of his passes for 2,236 yards and 28 touchdowns… Hodgson also welcomes back perhaps the best set of defensive lineman in the state in Amir Mitchell-Marvel and Fitzgerald, who combined for 110 tackles and 22 sacks in 2018… Eric Shimko takes over for his brother Brandon at linebacker, Brandon was Hodgson’s leading tackler last year… Several players, including Fitzgerald, pointed out sophomore RB Josh Ames as a player who could take a step forward, after a 615-yard freshman campaign... Nyghee Lolley figures to anchor the secondary after collecting 3 interceptions… Besides their Flight A schedule and Dover, Hodgson also faces Salesianum and Vo-Tech rival Howard for their non-conference schedule, Hodgson allowed a season-high 26 points to the Division 2 Wildcats last year.