NORFOLK, Va. -- No. 20 ranked University of Delaware gave No. 6 Old Dominion all it could handle in the team’s Colonial Athletic Association football battle at rainy Foreman Field at Ballard Stadium Saturday afternoon, but the Hens could never get the big play they needed in the second half and suffered a 31-26 setback at the hands of the Monarchs.

The Blue Hens (5-3, 2-3 CAA) took the lead late in the second quarter, but Old Dominion (7-1, 4-1 CAA) took it right back at the end of the half and stayed just in front of Delaware the rest of the way to escape with the five-point victory.

“This was a great game between two good football teams but we just didn’t make the plays when we had to,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, whose team had defeated Old Dominion 27-17 in the only other meeting between the schools last season. “I’m disappointed because I thought we did enough good things to get the win but we gave a very good team too many opportunities to win. Give ODU credit for being patient and executing their game plan. We got our stops and forced a couple of turnovers, but just couldn’t put enough points on the board.”

Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who earlier this year threw for an NCAA FCS record 730 yards in a win over New Hampshire, had another big game with his arm, completing 36 of 45 passes for 375 yards, but did the job with his feet this time as he scored three times, including a one-yard scamper with just 14 seconds left before halftime that put the Monarchs up for good at 21-17. Nick Mayers caught 11 passes for 131 yards while Tyree Lee led the Monarch ground game with 128 yards and a touchdown.

Delaware cut the lead to 28-26 on a 13-yard scoring toss from Trent Hurley (top right) to Nihja White with 12:21 left to play and the Hens had appeared to have tied the game when the two hooked up again for the two-point conversion. But the conversion was waived off due to a procedure penalty and the Hens could never gain a share of the lead.

A 29-yard field goal by ODU’s Jarod Brown with 1:17 left gave ODU some breathing room and the Monarchs clinched the win when Devon Simmons intercepted Hurley with 57 seconds left to play.

Hurley, who made a valiant return after missing the win over Rhode Island last week with a lingering foot injury, completed 12 of 20 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Hurley was sporting a swollen eye following the game after being poked in the second half, forcing him to miss several series.

Delaware also played most of the second half without All-American running back Andrew Pierce (72 yards) who suffered a knee injury early in the third stanza and never returned. His status for next week will be evaluated on Sunday. His backup, Julian Laing, ran well with 64 yards on 10 attempts.

“We certainly had our share of adversity today,” said Keeler. “But our kids kept battling.”

The Monarchs, who entered the game leading the NCAA in scoring offense with 46.6 points per game, piled up 499 on the day, the most allowed by the Blue Hen defense all season.

“A loss like this hurts because I saw how much we put into this game,”said Delaware senior captain and linebacker Paul Worrilow, who returned to action after missing last week’s win over Rhode Island with a knee injury but responded with a team-high 13 tackles. “Our defense had a great week of practice but we just didn’t execute the way we needed to today. It’s the minor things we have to improve upon. Right now, I just want to beat Towson next week.”

Delaware redshirt freshman linebacker Jeff Williams (bottom right) also added 13 tackles, including two sacks, while Tim Breaker had 11 tackles and Jake Giusti added 11.

Delaware’s defense did force two turnovers as Breaker’s hard hit on Nick Mayers midway through the first quarter set up a nine-yard scoring pass from Blue Hen backup Tim Donnelly to Michael Johnson to give the Hens a 7-0 lead with 7:06 left in the opening stanza. Donnelly, who led the Hens to the 47-24 win over Rhode Island last week, had entered the game for one play after Hurley’s helmet was knocked off. Johnson (middle right) made a spectacular grab, going up high and pulling down the ball with one hand. Donnelly later spelled Hurley while the UD starter was out with the eye injury.

After the Hens’ initial score, ODU came right back to tie the game at 7-7 on a 22-yard scamper out of the pocket by Heinicke with 3:34 left in the opening stanza. The teams traded touchdowns again as Hurley hit wide receiver Mike Milburn for a 16-yard scoring pass before Heinicke answered with a one-yard score with 9:08 left in the second quarter to knot the game at 14-14.

Delaware took what proved to be its last lead of the game when Sean Baner connected on a 27-yard field with 3:39 left in the first half for a 17-14 lead. That score was set up when Blue Hen defensive back Ricky Tunstall intercepted a Heinicke pass at the ODU 39-yard line. Heinicke then led a 78-yard drive that ended with him running in from a yard out with 14 seconds left to give the Monarchs a 21-17 halftime lead.

Lee’s nine-yard run with 6:50 left in the third quarter upped the ODU lead to 28-17 but the Hens battled back once again as Baner converted a 28-yard field goal and Hurley and White hooked up for the score to cut the lead to 28-26. Unfortunately, the Hens could never get closer.

The Hens return to action next Saturday when they host Towson at 12 noon at Delaware Stadium as part of Hall of Fame Day.