Newark Charter repeats as state champions

posted Sun, Dec 3, 2017 by Jon Buzby

Photo courtesy of Josh Shannon/Newark Post

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A game that didn’t start out well for Newark Charter ended in smiles and celebration on Tubby Raymond Field as the Patriots rallied from eight points down to defeat Smyrna High School 27-8 to win the Special Olympics Unified flag football state championship on Saturday afternoon.

“It feels great. These kids worked really hard for this,” a jubilant head coach Jake Schneider said shortly after having the traditional cooler of ice water dumped over him. “Tip of the hat to Smyrna because they could have easily taken this thing home tonight too. But I’m happy for our club. I thought it was awesome.”

Newark Charter quarterback Keegan Cahill was “sacked” in the end zone by Smyrna's Keith Demby on the first play from scrimmage. On the ensuing possession, Smyrna quarterback Olyvia Smith zipped a touchdown pass to Sara Miller to give the Eagles an 8-0 lead.

“Falling behind 8-0 was something that hadn’t happened to us all season and it was a rough way to start the game,” Cahill said. “I told the guys to not look at the scoreboard and to just play our game and have fun and it would all work out.”

The Patriots didn’t panic. On their next possession, Cahill quickly led his team across midfield for a first down. He then handed the ball off to Eric Anderson on a halfback sweep and the senior running back scampered around the left edge and down the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Patriots on the scoreboard.

“It feels great. I got the best touchdown ever,” an elated Anderson shared as the postgame celebration erupted around him. “Keegan did awesome and handed it to me and then I scored a touchdown and that was the best.”

The conversion attempt was no good, but Casey Wilson pulled the Smyrna quarterback’s flag in the end zone on the Eagles’ next possession for a safety to even the score at eight apiece.

“Our defense played incredible and I think the turning point of the game was when Casey forced a Smyrna safety and got our offense the ball back,” Cahill said.

The veteran signal-caller didn’t waste the opportunity, hooking up with Lucas McCully on a 40-yard pass and run for a score to put the Patriots ahead for good, 14-8, heading into halftime.

“We didn’t get the ideal start we wanted but the defense picked us up and after that we were all good,” Schneider said.

Newark Charter’s defense continued to shine in the second half. Ben Scannell picked off a Smyrna pass on the Eagles’ first possession, setting up a 13-yard scoring strike from Cahill to Anuj Shah to extend Newark Charter's lead to 20-8.

“It feels great being here celebrating with my friends,” Shah said shortly before the trophy presentation. “Now that we’re state champs I can’t ask for anything else. It’s been a very unique experience playing on this team for the first time. I got to experience something most people don’t ever get to experience and I’m grateful to be part of this.”

Ryan Walsh and Isaiah Anderson thwarted Smyrna’s next two possessions with interceptions.

“Everybody contributed to the win, that’s what made the game fun,” Isaiah Anderson said. “It feels pretty good winning our second championship. I want to thank the fans and everybody for coming out and supporting us.”

Shah scored his second touchdown on the Patriots’ last offensive series of the game and Eric Anderson’s pass to Cahill on the 2-point conversion put the icing on the cake of the school’s second state championship.

“I’m going to get a big trophy,” Patriots center Hannah Tressler said, smiling ear to ear.

“It was a little bit harder than last year,” Cahill admitted. “Smyrna is a great team but we came through with the win and it was a great experience.”

As he did all season long, Cahill made it a priority to get every player’s hands on the ball.

“Getting everyone involved is what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s really important to me to get them involved in this state title game with this big atmosphere around us.”

For Schneider, it was also a second state football championship. His first came as a player on the St. Mark’s team that defeated Middletown in 2010 for the Division I title.

“This one feels a lot better,” Schneider admitted. “I mean, just to lead this group from start to finish and top if off like this you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Smyrna head coach Andrew Mears focused on the experience rather than the outcome.

“Obviously it’s a game and you want to win, but this is the type of thing these kids will remember,” said Mears, who coached Smyrna High’s boys basketball team to last year’s state championship. “I told them, ‘Just reflect, take a look around, because this is a spot you’re in that not a lot of people get an opportunity for.’ So win or lose it has definitely been a very, very fun year with this group.”

Smyrna senior Marissa McClenton, who earlier in the week was named the WDEL Athlete of the Week, shared her thoughts on the experience.

“Honestly, we’ve come this far, we had a great team and the kids had a bunch of fun, so we’re still satisfied coming out of this,” she said. “[Being a Unified partner on this team] is one of my greatest achievements.”

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