Colby Reeder scored four touchdowns, helping Salesianum overcome a stiff challenge from Middletown and the loss of starting quarterback Garrett Cannon in the Sals’ 27-21 win in the state Division I semifinal Saturday night at Baynard Stadium. The win sends the top-seeded Sals to the championship game next Saturday against the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between William Penn and Smyrna.
Reeder’s and Salesianum’s second score, which came on a 4-yard fourth-down run, was perhaps the most important, not so much because it closed Middletown’s lead to 15-13, but because of what happened to Cannon on the two-point conversion attempt. As a defender gave chase in the backfield, Cannon appeared to get his right cleat stuck in the grass. As he was hit and spun around, his right foot remained stuck in its original spot.
When Cannon emerged from under the defender, he lay flat on his back, but his right foot was perpendicular to his left. He was removed from the game on a stretcher and diagnosed with a broken right ankle. Salesianum would play the second half with sophomore understudy Zach Gwynn under center.
The players and coaches had confidence in Gwynn. “I said to him at halftime, ‘Zach, that’s why you’re here, dude.’ That’s why we run second team. We pride ourselves on our depth, we pride ourselves on our kids getting quality reps at practice. Zach stepped up and did a very good job for us,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said.
Cannon has a saying, “win on three,” that his teammates are used to hearing. That became a rallying cry, according to two-way lineman Kyle Cathers.
“We brought it in together. We said we’ve got to win this for Garrett. Win on three, win on three,” he said. “It’s hard to lose someone like that, but it’s great that we have so much depth. We’re so fortunate to have that level of quarterback play. Zach Gwynn did amazing stepping in as a sophomore.”
The Sals played inspired defense to begin the third, forcing the Cavaliers to punt from deep in their own end. Salesianum took over at its own 49, and on first down Reeder took the ball to Middletown’s 18. He took a third-down and seven almost to the 1-yard line and scored on the next play. The two-point play gave the Sals a 21-15 lead with 8:01 to go in the third.
Toward the end of the quarter, Middletown forced Salesianum to punt from deep in its own end. A personal foul on the Sals gave the Cavaliers a first down at the Sals’ 15. Frankie Datillo scored from there for Middletown, but Reeder blocked the extra point, and the teams were tied at 21 heading into the final stanza.
Midway through the fourth, an unlikely hero emerged for the Sals. Safety Michael Drake jumped a route on a pass by Cavs quarterback Vincent DelPercio at the Sals’ 21 with only green grass between him and the end zone. He returned the ball 77 yards, running out of gas inside the Middletown 5 and diving to the 2-yard line. Reeder punched it in on the first play from scrimmage after the turnover, and after a missed PAT, Salesianum held on to a 27-21 lead.
According to Drake, he had a good look at DelPercio and saw an opportunity to pick one off. “Unfortumately, didn’t score, but Colby punched it in for us.”
The Sals looked a bit tired as the game wore on, but Reeder said it wasn’t hard to find the necessary energy to get the job done. “You’ve got to dig down deep. And you’ve got to think, ‘I’ve worked nine months to get back to here.’ And all the time you put in the weight room, and all the time you’ve practiced. You’ve got to do that for yourself and your teammates, dig down and play in the fourth quarter to get the win.”
As the fourth wound down, Salesianum held Middletown to a three and out, and with the ball at their own 13 yard line and fewer than three minutes to go, the Sals appeared to be in great shape. But Middletown recovered a fumble on third down at Sallies’ 19, and the Cavaliers had new life. A DelPercio run gave Middletown fourth and goal at the Salesianum two, and with just a few ticks left on the clock, Datillo took a handoff and headed toward his left tackle. The Sals stuffed the run, prompting a huge celebration along the home sidelines.
“It was storybook,” DiNardo said of the goal-line stand. “There wasn’t a whole lot of guessing going on. We figured they’d be running to that side. The question was stopping it. Our kids did what they had to do to be successful.”
They will play next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Delaware Stadium.(Get tickets here.) Salesianum has defeated both Smyrna and William Penn this season, but DiNardo knows his team has a tough task next week. “We played ‘em both. They’re both great teams. We’re going to have a war whoever it is.”
Cathers is grateful for the opportunity to play one more game for Salesianum. “There’s no other way to leave Salesianum. I’m going to miss this place. I’m going to miss this field. There’s nothing like Baynard. To wear the gold helmet one more time and wear ‘Salesianum’ across my chest, that’s all I want.”