It was set up to be a classic matchup of two Delaware high school rivals in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday.
Salesianum star and Los Angeles Rams linebacker Troy Reeder could have been chasing after Middletown star and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, just like he did in high school.
In their junior and senior years, Salesianum and Middletown played twice each season – once in the regular season and again for the DIAA state championship.
"It would have been great to see," Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo said. "Delaware is such a small state, and you don't see many players going on to become stars in the NFL.
CRITICAL DISTINCTION: These 2 words from Eagles' GM throw futures of Jalen Hurts, Jalen Reagor into question
"These were two players who came on the scene as freshmen, and everyone knew right then that they were going to be very, very special."
Alas, Godwin tore his ACL on Dec. 19 and is out until next season.
Godwin led the Buccaneers in both receptions (98) and yards (1,103) despite missing the last three regular-season games.
"It's a shame he won't be out there Sunday," Reeder wrote in an email. "I know how much it probably means to him, so I'm sure he's disappointed."
Reeder became the Rams' full-time starter at linebacker in Week 7, and finished with 91 tackles, third on the team, along with 2 sacks.
Ayer fue un partido de locos para los Rams. Esta intercepción, que fue un estupendo marcaje de Troy Reeder al QB Kyler Murray, fue prácticamente el canto de la victoria.#RamsHouse #NFLTwitter pic.twitter.com/5nspqz1FwO
— José J. Ramírez (@elcheleramirez) January 18, 2022
Reeder also made the potential game-clinching play on Monday night in the Wild Card round against Arizona. He came in on a blitz and hit Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray as he was looking to pass from the end zone.
Murray, trying to avoid a safety, threw the ball up for grabs as Reeder was tackling him to the ground. David Long intercepted the pass and scored to give the Rams a 21-0 lead in the second quarter of their 34-11 win.
DiNardo watched on TV and saw Reeder get up after the hit and make a Superman gesture. DiNardo said Reeder also did that when he scored in the state championship game in 2013 against Godwin and Middletown.
DiNardo said he texted Reeder the next day and reminded him that the last time he made that gesture, he got a taunting penalty. DiNardo said Reeder responded: "Lol."
An intense rivalry
Back in 2012 and 2013, no rivalry in Delaware was as intense as Middletown-Salesianum in football, and no matchup was as highly-anticipated as Reeder going against Godwin.
That was true both on offense and defense because both players starred on both sides of the ball.
DiNardo compared it to the rivalry between Ursuline's Elena Delle Donne and St. Elizabeth's Khadijah Rushdan in girls basketball 15 years ago.
"It was like a golden era of Delaware high school football because you had two once-in-a-lifetime players going against each other with everything on the line," DiNardo said.
During those two seasons, Middletown also had quarterback Darius Wade, who went on to play at Boston College before ending up at Bowling Green. The Sals also had Brian O'Neill, who was a tight end and defensive end back then.
O'Neill is now a star right tackle for the Minnesota Vikings.
And it was just as likely for Godwin as a linebacker and safety to be chasing after Reeder as a running back, as it was for Reeder as a linebacker to be chasing after Godwin.
"I just always respected him as such a complete player," Reeder wrote about Godwin. "Not many wide receivers who were so highly recruited were also starting for their teams at safety/LB.
"I think, without a doubt, that carried over to his college and pro career as a guy known for being willing to block as much as he catches passes."
Middletown dominates first
In 2012, Middletown won both games easily, beating the Sals 35-0 in the first meeting, then 27-0 in the state championship game.
In the first game, Godwin scored three touchdowns – on a punt return, a 12-yard TD catch and a 7-yard TD run. In the championship game, Godwin opened the scoring with a 59-yard touchdown run and he closed it with a 25-yard touchdown catch.
Godwin finished with five catches for 113 yards. He also had 67 yards rushing on five carries. Those were Salesianum's only two losses that season.
DiNardo called that Cavaliers team "one of the best high school teams ever assembled in Delaware high school history." He called Godwin "the best high school player I ever saw in Delaware, and that's saying a lot."
DiNardo has been a head coach in Delaware for 35 years, first at Middletown and then at Salesianum.
"We always tried to make sure he didn't beat us," DiNardo said about Godwin. "But Chris was as dominant on defense as he was on offense. In his senior year, we decided we'd go after him (when Godwin was playing defense). He made every tackle, so that didn't work.
"Then when we played them again in the championship game, we audibled away from him. He still made every play. We also learned not to kick the ball anywhere near him."
Sals get revenge
But the Sals got their revenge that year, winning both games. In the regular-season game, the Sals beat Middletown 24-13 on Nov. 8, ending the Cavaliers' 23-game winning streak.
In that game, Reeder rushed for 220 yards. Godwin ran a kick back 86 yards for a touchdown.
In the championship game, the Sals won again, 23-7.
Middletown was leading 7-3 when O'Neill caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Sgro. Then Reeder scored twice in the fourth quarter, on runs of 3 and 11 yards, to put the game away.
Reeder finished with 130 yards on 25 carries. Godwin caught 9 passes for 125 yards.
"It's something I came to Salesianum for," Reeder said after the game. "It took us four years, but this fourth year, we got it done. I knew we had a special team."
In all, Reeder and Godwin were 3-3 against each other in high school. Then they went to Penn State together.
They weren't friends as high school players, more like rivals who respected each other. That changed at Penn State.
"I certainly got to know him much better in our time at PSU," Reeder wrote. "We carpooled home a few times, and I got to know his (now) wife. I definitely enjoyed playing with him more than against him."
Reeder transferred to Delaware after the 2015 season. He signed with the Rams in the spring of 2019 as an undrafted free agent and worked his way into the starting lineup in each of his three NFL seasons.
Reeder started 8 games as a rookie and 7 more in 2020, all the while being a main contributor on special teams.
Winning with Reeder, Godwin
"You win with guys like Troy Reeder," Rams coach Sean McVay said in September 2020, before the Rams beat the Eagles 37-19 at Lincoln Financial Field. "He has only gotten better. He’s conscientious. He’s got great attention to detail. He’s a glue guy in the locker room because he does a great job of establishing good relationships with so many different guys."
Godwin has had a similar impact on the Buccaneers. He left Penn State after his junior year, and Tampa Bay drafted him in the third round in 2017.
In 2019, Godwin caught 86 passes for 1,333 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. In 2020, Godwin overcame injuries to make two crucial plays in Tampa Bay's 31-26 win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship game.
The first came when he leaped over Delaware native and Caravel Academy star Darnell Savage to haul in Tom Brady's 52-yard pass, setting up a touchdown.
The second came on a third-and-5 with about a minute remaining and the Bucs clinging to that five-point lead. Godwin gained 6 yards on a jet sweep and the Bucs ran out the clock.
Two weeks later, Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl.
Eagles. Phillies. College and high school sports. Subscribe to Delaware Online to get every story.
Godwin was even better this season until his injury.
"You talk about an All-Pro player who’s had a career season," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said about Godwin last week before the Bucs beat the Eagles 31-15 in the Wild Card round.
"He does so much for us. And he’s a unique player. We don’t try to ask other guys to be him ... (because) none of them are Chris Godwin."
Reeder knows all about this, going back nearly a decade to the pinnacle of the best rivalry in Delaware high school football.
Now the Rams know this, too. They faced Godwin and the Buccaneers on Sept. 26. The Rams won 34-24, but Godwin had 6 catches for 74 yards. He also ran for a 2-yard touchdown.
Reeder didn't start, but he played some on defense, making a tackle. He was a full-time special teams player.
"He gets a lot of credit for his receiving stats," Reeder said about Godwin, "but he really does a lot of dirty work for that offense."
Just like Reeder does for the Rams' defense.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware rivals Troy Reeder, Chris Godwin won't meet in NFL playoffs