Delaware Offense Plays Starring Role as #2/1 Blue Hens Roll Past UMass 45-27; Earn Share of CAA Title
November 13, 2010
Pictured from top to bottom: TE Colin Naugle; QB Pat Devlin; WR Phillip Thaxton; RB David Hayes (Photo Courtesy of Mark Campbell)
AMHERST, Mass. -- The University of Delaware offense played the starring role Saturday as the Blue Hens piled up 510 yards of total offense and quarterback Pat Devlin threw touchdown passes to four different receivers in a 45-27 football victory over Massachusetts on a perfect autumn day at McGuirk Stadium.
And not only did they cruise to their second straight victory, the #2/1 ranked Blue Hens (9-1, 6-1 CAA) clinched at least a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title - their first since 2004 - as William & Mary dropped a 30-24 decision to James Madison Saturday. The Blue Hens can gain the CAA title outright and claim the league's automatic NCAA playoff berth with a victory in the regular season finale next Saturday vs. rival Villanova at Delaware Stadium.
Devlin, who this week was named a Top 10 finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the top quarterback in the nation, proved worthy of that lofty honor as he completed 16 of 22 passes for 240 yards and matched a career-high with four touchdowns, hitting Rob Jones, Andrew Pierce, Phillip Thaxton, and Colin Naugle on scoring tosses.
The Hens got the job done on the ground as well as David Hayes, playing his first game since Oct. 9 due to an ankle injury, enjoyed an impressive return as he rushed for a career-high 107 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown burst up the middle in the third quarter. Pierce, the nation's leading freshman runner at the FCS level, added 66 yards on the ground. Devlin also ran for a career-high 55 yards and Leon Jackson picked up 45 as the Hens totalled 270 yards on the ground.
No. 14/13 Massachusetts (6-4, 4-3 CAA), who will most likely need a win over Rhode Island in their season finale next week to earn a post-season berth, had a two-game win streak snapped despite putting up 27 points and 424 yards on a Delaware defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense at 8.1 points per game.
UMass, which entered the game with the CAA’s top-rated offense at 401.6 yards per game, posted the highest point and total yardage totals all season against the Blue Hens. Delaware had allowed a previous high of 17 points vs. Rhode Island and William & Mary and a high of 350 yards to William & Mary. The Minutemen had surpassed the 350-yard mark by the middle of the third quarter Saturday.
"This is a great accomplishment for our kids," said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who earned his third conference title in nine seasons at the helm of the Blue Hens. "To be champions in the best conference in America is a big deal. This is exciting for us. We beat a good football team today. UMass gave us some trouble today and we missed some tackles, which is really the first time that has happened all season. But we got together at halftime and decided to just keep things simple and not think too much."
Delaware piled up 501 yards of total offense, the Hens’ second highest total of the season and the second straight week they have reached that mark after gaining a season-high 589 yards in the 48-0 victory over Towson last Saturday. The Hens also converted on 11 of 17 third downs.
Despite allowing big yardage totals, the Delaware defense did come up big when it needed to. Massachusetts converted just 2 of 12 third down opportunities on the day and the Hens forced two turnovers - including a fumble recovery and an interception in the end zone by sophomore linebacker Kyle Hunte, a first-year transfer from Northeastern who saw his most extensive action of the season.
But the real star of the day was Devlin, who put forth another outstanding effort with his third straight 200-yard passing effort and fifth of the season. The smart and steady senior shook off his first interception since Sept. 25 - snapping the third longest streak in UD history at 157 - by throwing four touchdown passes for the second straight year against the Minutemen. He found eight different receivers on the day.
He hit Jones on a 10-yard scoring pass across the middle - Jones’ first touchdown of the season - to open the scoring just five minutes into the contest and later hit Pierce on a 31-yard bomb down the left sideline, hooked up with Thaxton on a 44-yard catch and run, and teamed with Naugle for a 31-yard scoring play. The touchdown was Naugle's first career score.
“We have a lot of guys who can do that,” said Devlin when asked about Delaware’s big passing plays. “We have guys who can get open space and we knew we could do that today because Massachusetts shows a lot of man coverage. A couple of times today we had guys who were able to shake defenders and take it all the way. We really executed well today and made a lot of big plays.
Delaware was able to take the early 7-0 lead after Massachusetts kicker Caleb Violette missed on two field goal chances - from 23 yards with 12:15 left in the first quarter and from 23 yards just under 10 minutes later. But UMass finally got on the board and tied things up at 7-7 when Havens hit Julian Talley on a 45-yard flea-flicker with 1:21 left in the first stanza. The touchdown was the first scored against the Hens in the first quarter all season and came after Pierce fumbled at the Delaware 45-yard line and Tyler Holmes recovered. The fumble came after Pierce broke through the line and appeared to have a straight path to the end zone before being hit by Theo Agnew.
The Hens upped the lead to 24-14 at the half as Mike Perry converted a 19-yard field goal early in the second half, Devlin hit Pierce on the 31-yard scoring toss, and then hooked up with Thaxton on the 44-yard touchdown. Thaxton caught the ball in the flat 10 yards out and then outraced Mike Lee into the end zone just 1:18 before halftime.
The scoring pass to Pierce came after Violette had missed a third field goal - this one from 25 yards - but the Hens had given the ball back when Devlin was picked off by Darren Thellen. However, the Hens got the ball right back when Havens could not handle a high snap and Hunte recovered at the UMass 31-yard line. Devlin then hit Pierce down the left side on the first play.
Delaware upped the lead to 31-14 just under two minutes into the second half when Devlin found Naugle across the middle. The junior tight end caught the ball with his back to the end zone but turned around and raced 31 yards for his first score.
“I was taking things play by play,” said Naugle. “As soon as the ball came, I turned around and saw a lot of open grass. I just ran as fast as I could and got into the end zone.
But the 17-point deficit didn’t faze the Minutemen, who came right back on a four-yard scoring pass from Havens to Talley on UMass’ next drive to narrow the gape to 31-21. The scoring drive was set up by a 59-yard run down the middle by Griffin to the six-yard line. The play was the longest against the Hens from scrimmage all season.
Delaware then answered and gained some breathing room as Hayes, the team’s leading rusher a year ago as a freshman, found a hole up the middle and dashed 61 yards down the middle of the field for a score just 31 seconds later. The play was the longest of Hayes’ career and marked the second straight week a Blue Hen runner has broke off on a 60-yard scoring run.
Leon Jackson, who had that 63-yard scoring run last week vs. Towson, hit paydirt again as he scored on a nine-yard run with 8:08 left in the game to push Delaware’s lead to 45-21. The score finished off the Hens’ longest drive of the season in terms of time as Delaware took 7:05 off the clock.
Massachusetts came up with one last push, pulling to within 45-27 on a seven-yard pass play from Havens to Anthony Nelson with 6:50 left, but could not get closer as Hunte intercepted a Havens pass in the end zone with 4:26 left to secure the win.
Havens, the top-rated signal caller in the CAA for UMass, completed 17 of 31 passes for 228 yards and matched a career-high with four scoring passes. Griffin, a first-year transfer from Northeastern, ran for a game-high 145 yards while Talley caught five passes for 81 yards and had two touchdowns.
HEN SCRATCHINGS: Delaware has also won conference titles in 2003 and 2004 under Keeler...the Hens did not punt until 2:06 was left in the third quarter...Delaware was ranked No. 1 in the FCS Coaches poll and No. 2 in The Sports Network media poll last week and will most likely be No. 1 in both this week after the loss by #1/2 William & Mary...the No. 1 ranking was the Hens’ first in the regular season since Sept. 1981...Delaware is now 5-1 vs. Top 20 teams this season...Delaware now leads the all-time series 25-6 with the 25 wins its most against any CAA opponent...Hens are now 13-3 all-time in Amherst...sophomore Nihja White, who was coming off consecutive 100-yard receiving efforts, caught just one pass for seven yards but continued his team-high streak of catching at least one pass in 15 straight games.