Sussex Central's Dom Smith catches a touchdown pass in a state semifinal victory over Dover

Sussex Central's Dom Smith catches a touchdown pass in a state semifinal victory over Dover

If the adage "defense wins championships" holds up, Sussex Central may finally get to hoist a much-coveted trophy.

Sussex Central Head Coach John Wells is 0-4 in championship games, including a 3-year run from 2006-08 when they dropped games to Salesianum, Middletown, and Caesar Rodney.

(VIDEO | Highlights of Sussex Central's victory over Dover)

His 5th attempt at the title comes with the statistically best defense in Delaware this year.

The Golden Knights allowed just 41 points in the regular season, posting 7 shutouts along the way.

Wells, who is in his third decade guiding Sussex Tech, said their play is made even more impressive when you consider the opposition.

"It's a challenge to go 7 shutouts now, as opposed to when we started coaching in the 90s. You're seeing spreads, multiple, options, and so many different offenses from one week to the next, you don't run the same defense from week to week."

Their metal was tested last week in Dover, as they fell behind 20-6 behind Dover's quick strike offense led by Javon Peace and Jordan Magee. After halftime, Dover picked up just one additional first down, via penalty, and the offense made the plays late to escape with a 21-20 win.

"I give our kids credit being down for the first time since week 1. It could have been easy to make excuses or not dig in. I don't think our kids wanted to go out that way. At halftime, the battle cry was we had two quarters left, and we're not going out that way."

A key piece to the puzzle has been CB Isaiah Barnes, who leads the team with 6 interceptions, but also has a team-high 19 catches for 239 yards from his brother Isaac.

Issac's game-winning touchdown pass to Dom Smith in the final minute at Dover put him at 1,207 passing yards and 17 touchdowns against just 2 picks.

Pressure has been key to the defense, as sophomore Tyrell Witke has 12 of his team's 43 sacks. Kasim Lewis and Elijah Moorer have each sacked 8 quarterbacks. Lewis also has one of Central's two defensive touchdowns, joining Zion Reed with a pick-six.

That unit will now face a Salesianum team they've scrimmaged every year since 2012, so while both teams have improved throughout the year, there is a level of familiarity.

"I think we've got to coach up the kids on each of those teams to know what's coming and what to expect, and also the unexpected. They need to know what keys to read, and if we do that, we have a good chance."

The Henlopen North champs will get that chance, and if they make it a 12th straight victory on Saturday, their Henlopen North trophy will have some DIAA company.

GOLDEN KNIGHTS NOTES: The 20 points given up by Central last week was the most since surrendering 26 to Hodgson back in week 1, a game played in a driving downpour... Isaiah Barnes leads Central with 110 tackles, while Lewis has 33 tackles for loss... Malik Copes and Tyrell Witke have combined for another 40... Sussex Central's Wing-T has accounted for 2,774 rushing yards, but no one has carried for 600... Shihiem Williams (579), Reed (577), and Tyjhier Sheppard-Parker (511) will be three key ball carriers in the offense... A victory would give the Henlopen North their 11th state championship, and 4-in-a-row after Smyrna's three-peat, before Smyrna's run, the Henlopen had never won back-to-back titles.