Dover pulls away from Garden Spot for 2nd playoff win in school history
The host Eagles took down Garden Spot for a 40-21 home victory on Friday night.
The Dover football team may own just one PIAA District 3 playoff victory in its history, but the Eagles certainly didn't play like it Friday night.
Hosting Garden Spot in a Class 5A first-round clash, Dover looked very much like a championship contender.
It started with a blocked punt less than a minute into play that was returned for a Dover touchdown, and it continued on from there. The No. 7 seed in the district draw absorbed some haymakers along the way by a game Spartans squad, but the Eagles had an answer each and every time.
Led by big games from quarterback Aric Campbell (9-of-19 for 213 yards and two TDs), Gavin Mullins (24 carries, 140 yards, one TD and one catch for 80 yards and TD) and the entire defense (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, a blocked punt which led to the opening score), Dover zoomed past Garden Spot, 41-20, to earn a berth in the district quarterfinals next week.
The Eagles (9-2 overall) will travel to No. 2-seeded Exeter Township (10-0) next Friday at 7 p.m.
“The maturity of this team is just unbelievable,” Dover coach Wayne Snelbaker said. “We knew it would be close. I know it was three scores, but in all reality it was a close game. We knew defensively we had to play disciplined football.”
It took some adjusting, but the Eagles got there. After surrendering a couple of big-play scores early in the first quarter, the Dover defense shut down the Spartans, holding them scoreless over the final two-plus periods.
The combination of Garden Spot quarterback Kye Harting and running back/receiver Blake Weaver gave the Eagles fits in the first half. Weaver galloped 72 yards to draw the score even just a few moments after Dover scored on the blocked punt. And after Campbell scored on a 1-yard keeper to make it 14-7 on Dover’s next possession, Weaver struck again for an 81-yard touchdown reception with 2:54 left in the first quarter.
“Just adversity and our team had to overcome it,” Campbell said. “We’ve been down in games and we’ve come back.”
Needing a response, the Eagles turned to Mullins, who took a pass over the middle, juked a defender and raced 81 yards down the sideline to put Dover ahead.
“Gavin Mullins is just the man,” Snelbaker said. “He has just been phenomenal for us. It’s been fun watching him grow up.”
Harting drove Garden Spot down the field on the next possession. He cashed in with a 1-yard keeper to even the score on last time at 21-all with 7:47 left in the first half. But the Eagles once again responded with a big drive, and Campbell's first-down run on a third-and-20 to set up Garon Quillen's 11-yard TD run with 4:11 to play in the half.
That’s when the Dover defense adjusted to stop Weaver and Harting. The Eagles held the Spartans off the scoreboard by intercepting two passes — one to stymie a late drive in the first half, and one by Mullins late in the game that sealed the victory. Dover also recovered a pair of fumbles that halted promising drives by Garden Spot.
Snelbaker loved the way his defense adjusted to Garden Spot’s attack and put their collective foot down midway through the second quarter.
“There were some times where we had to make adjustments,” Snelbaker said. “And we shut them down in the second half.”
With the score still at 28-21 through three quarters, Dover pulled away in the fourth. A brilliant 65-yard run by Lucas Runk set up Campbell's second touchdown of the night with 8:49 left in the fourth quarter, which gave the hosts some separation at 34-21. The Eagles capped off the scoring a few minutes later as Campbell hit Brayden Zirkle for a 26-yard strike that made it a three-score game with 4:28 left in the contest.
“I can’t even,” Campbell said of his playmakers. “They’re all great. Our line is insane. Thomas (Smyser) is insane. Gavin running his heart off.”
Dover will now move on to face the defending District 3 Class 5A champs from Exeter Township next week in Berks County. While the Eagles will enter that contest as heavy underdogs, Snelbaker knows his team will go in with a bunch of confidence as well as a puncher's chance.
“I don’t know a whole lot about them,” Snelbaker said. “I heard that they’re big up front. So we have our work cut out for us, but it’s another week of football, and anything can happen.”