Understanding why Martin Luther King High School Cougars football fans held out hope of a Friday night miracle comeback against the Salesianium Sallies (Wilmington, Del.) is as easy as looking back in time.
The Cougars trailed Northeast High by multiple touchdowns just one week ago before they mounted a comeback that ended with a 50-49 overtime win.
There would be no such victory at Benjamin L. Johnston Memorial Stadium this week in a game that pitted a defending state champion against a defending Public League titleist, though.
The Sallies stayed the course en route to an efficient 55-26 victory in the first-ever game between the teams from neighboring states.
After the Cougars kicked the ball off to start the 6 p.m. game, a long return left the visitors 23 yards away from an endzone which Colby Reeder would find for a 3-yard touchdown with 8:48 left in the first quarter.
The home team responded with a 5-yard touchdown by quarterback Nasir Boykin but a missed extra point meant the Sallies would lead 7-6 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter would prove to be the Cougars undoing.
Salesianum would score four touchdowns before the half (a 3-yard Mike Sanzone run, a 31-yard Jeremy Ryan reception, a 25-yard Michael Drake interception return and 18-yard Michael Ziccarelli catch).
Down 34-6 just before halftime, Boykin would find Dominique McNeil for a 5-yard touchdown with just 1.2 seconds remaining cutting the deficit to 34-12.
If there was to be a dramatic comeback, Reeder’s 28-yard touchdown run — stiff-arm block included — damaged its likelihood less than two and a half minutes into the second half.
The Cougars responded instantly when a long McNeil catch and run led to Boykin’s 5-yard touchdown run, his second in a game that also saw him throw three interceptions.
After a solid defensive stop, a fumble call (questionable to Cougars supporters but clear to the naked eye) led to another rushing touchdown for the Sallies, who led 48-20 with 2:43 left in the third.
There was no quit in the Cougars, though, as Paul Sanchez’s 40-yard reception led to a 30-yard Boykin touchdown run.
Leading 48-26, the Sallies’ John Sherlock made a highlight-reel, 32-yard touchdown reception surrounded by defenders with 8:02 remaining.
With that, the 55-26 final score was set.
After the game, Saliesianum Head Coach Bill DiNardo, whose team won a Delaware state championship one year ago, conceded that he hadn’t seen much Cougars film but knew that they featured an athletic spread offense.
“They made us look silly in some spots,” he said, “but I’m happy with the resolve our kids showed. They didn’t let the momentum slip away from us. They didn’t lose their resolve.”
For his part, MLK Head Coach Ed Dunn told his squad to focus on upcoming games instead of this loss.
Their next two games (Saturday at Olney and Oct. 25 hosting Washington) will decide whether they advance to the PIAA playoffs. With them both, and they’re all but certainly in. Win one, and they’re at the mercy of mathematics, Dunn said.
He admitted that turnovers and penalties helped undermine their efforts on Friday.
“When you’re playing a good team like that, you can’t keep shooting yourself in the foot,” he said. “We have to continue to get better.”