However, for the second straight week, the Hens could not come up with the big play when they needed it and dropped their second straight Top 20 Colonial Athletic Association battle in a 34-27 overtime setback to rival Towson.
No. 23 Delaware (5-4, 2-4 CAA) rallied to send the game into overtime when kicker Sean Baner nailed a 40-yard field goal into the wind with just two seconds left in regulation, completing a drive that saw the Hens go 42 yards in just 38 seconds to set up the game-tying kick.
But No. 19 Towson came out on top in the extra session as Terrance West scored on a three-yard run on the first possession of overtime and the Tigers defense held Delaware on downs, clinching the win when Jordan Love intercepted a Trent Hurley pass at the goalline.
Delaware (5-4, 2-4 CAA), which dropped a hard-fought 31-26 decision to No. 6 Old Dominion a week ago, fell for the fourth time in the last five games and seriously threatened any post-season hopes.
“I really like the way we battled today but obviously disappointed that we lost,” said Keeler. “We show our youth too many times and we let too many opportunities get away. In terms of how hard we prepared and the emotion we played with two weeks in a row was like watching a championship team prepare and attack this thing. Towson just made more plays than we did. They got some key third and fourth down conversions and they were the ones that killed us. We had guys in the right position, but just didn’t make tackles and didn’t make the play when we needed it. Towson is a tough team to prepare for because they do so many things. They are a good football team and they are playing at a high level here late in the season.”
Towson (5-4, 4-2 CAA), the defending CAA champion, won its second straight game and ended a personal five-game losing streak to Delaware.
Hurley (at left) was impressive all afternoon at the helm for the Blue Hens as he completed 25 of 34 passes for 309 yards and touchdowns with Nihja White (top right) grabbing eight passes for 85 yards and surpassing the 2,000-yard receiving mark for his career.
The Blue Hens played without All-American running back Andrew Pierce, who suffered a knee injury in the Old Dominion game. Junior Julian Laing took his place in the backfield and was solid, rushing for 59 yards and scoring on a four-yard burst with a minute into the second half that gave Delaware its first lead of the day at 24-20.
Jerel Harrison and Michael Johnson each caught touchdown passes from Hurley while tight end Nick Boyle (below right) posted his best career day with five catches for 63 yards.
Delaware senior linebacker Paul Worrilow led the defensive effort with 12 tackles while defensive end Laith Wallschleger (bottom left) registered nine tackles, including two tackles for loss.
Towson, which counts two of its losses this season to NCAA Division I FBS opponents, got a big day from its quarterback as well as Grant Enders clicked on 21 of 26 passes for 187 yards and two scores, both to Emmanuel Holder. West, the 2011 CAA Rookie of the Year, finished the day with 113 yards rushing.
Delaware outgained the Tigers in total offense by a 395-361 margin, but Towson converted all four of its fourth down conversion attempts and held a 15-minute advantage in time of possession fueled by 16-play, 75-yard drive that consumed nearly nine minutes to open the second half.
“We just didn’t make plays at critical times,” said Worrilow. “When you are in a position to win a ballgame, you have to get it done and get off the field. We just failed to do that towards the end of the game. For the most part, we played pretty well today, it was just one or two plays and they took advantage of it. Towson is a good team and they took advantage of our mishaps.”
The team traded scores until the third quarter as Towson went up on a two-yard run by Dominique Booker with 2:31 left in the opening stanza followed by the Hens getting on the board on a 19-yard scoring strike from Hurley to Harrison.
Towson answered on a 25-yard scoring pass from Enders to Holder with 57 seconds left in the opening half. But Delaware came right back and took the momentum into halftime as Baner nailed a 47-yard field goal with the wind at his back with just seconds left to pull the Hens to within 14-10.
Towson took a 20-10 lead early in the second half as the Tigers put together their long drive that resulted in West scoring his first touchdown of the day on a one-yard burst with 6:18 remaining.
But Delaware answered with consecutive scores to take its first lead of the day at 24-20 early in the fourth quarter. Hurley found Michael Johnson wide open on the left side as the two hooked up on a 25-yard scoring play to pull the Hens to within 20-17 with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
Delaware took the lead on its next possesion, driving 63 yards on eight plays with Laing reaching the end zone on a nice move around the left side just 39 seconds into the quarter.
Neither team would score again until Enders hit Holder on a play-action pass on a third and goal from the two-yard line with 44 seconds left to give Towson a 27-24 advantage.
Delaware wasted little time in its comeback as Hurley connected for 24 yards to Harrison and nine yards to Johnson before an offensive facemask penalty brough the ball back to the Towson 32. Hurley then hit a diving Mike Milburn on a 23-yard pass play down to the 23-yard line.
That set the stage for Baner, who sent the game into overtime as he boomed a 40-yard field goal into the wind in the final seconds. Baner, who had missed two field goals earlier in the day, started the kick out left but the wind brought it right back to the middle for the successful conversion by the All-American candidate who has booted 16 field goals in 19 attempts to rank among the national leaders.
“We have a lot of confidence in Sean,” said Keeler. “That was a big time kick to send us into overtime. It’s just too bad we couldn’t take advantage of it.”
The Tigers got the ball first in overtime and quickly moved down the field as Enders hit Gerrard Sheppard on a seven-yard pass and West carried three straight times down to the Delaware six-yard line.
Enders ran for three yards down to the three before throwing an incomplete pass. West then followed with what proved to be the game-winner as he swept around the left side and went into the end zone untouched for his 13th rushing touchdown of the season.
Delaware had its chance to tie things up but couldn’t get what it needed. Hurley was tackled for no gain by Matt Morgan on first down and followed with two incomplete passes to Milburn to set up fourth down. Hurley’s final pass was high and Love gathered it in just in front of the end zone to end the game.The Blue Hens will look to get back to winning ways next Saturday when they travel to Richmond to take on the No. 22 Spiders at 3:30 p.m.