Delaware Ground Attack Gets in High Gear as No. 15 Blue Hens Hold Off Richmond 24-10 to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive
Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell
NEWARK, Del. -- Andrew Pierce (at right) darted in and around the Richmond defense all day long to highlight a dominating run game and the University of Delaware defense forced four turnovers as the Blue Hens continued to keep their post-season playoff hopes alive with a 24-10 Colonial Athletic Association football victory Saturday afternoon at Delaware Stadium.
The 15th-ranked Blue Hens (6-4, 4-3 Colonial Athletic Association) cruised to their second straight win as they jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and held off the Spiders to send the Homecoming and Senior Day crowd of 20,008 home happy.
Richmond (3-7, 0-7 CAA) lost it seventh straight game, its longest winless streak since the 1996 season. Delaware will close out the regular season next Saturday against long-time CAA rival Villanova in a game that will be played at PP&L Park in Chester, Pa., home of the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer.
The Hens will need a win to say in the running for one of 10 at-large playoff berths in the 20-team field that will be announced Nov. 20.
Pierce, a sophomore All-American and 2011 CAA Pre-Season Player of the Year who entered the game ranked 18th nationally in rushing with 106.1 yards per game, was a workhorse once again for the Hens as carried 34 times for 215 yards scored two first-half touchdowns.
Running behind a line that features three pre-season All-Americans among its four seniors, he also went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season and moved into fourth place on the all-time UD rushing list in just two seasons with 2,825 yards.
His 215 yards was his second career 200-yard effort and the eighth highest single game total in UD history. He has now surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark seven times this season and 14 times in his 25-game career.
“Our line was great tonight,” said Pierce, who became only the fifth player in UD history to record two 200-yard rushing efforts in a career, surpassing his 200-yard effort vs. Duquesne a year ago. “We knew our guys would come out with a lot of emotion because of Senior Day and I knew we would have a good day running the ball.”
The Hens, led by the quartet of senior linemen in Gino Gradkowski, Rob McDowell, Will Nagle, and Shea Allard, piled up their second highest rushing yardage total this season with 249 total yards and held a nearly four-minute advantage in time of possession.
Pierce scored on a one-yard burst to open the scoring midway through the first half and later capped a 97-yard march with a four-yard touchdown lunge with 3:12 left in the first half to send Delaware into the break with a comfortable 21-3 lead.
Blue Hen quarterback Tim Donnelly also added a one-yard touchdown sneak late in the first quarter and Sean Baner converted a 30-yard field goal midway through the third quarter cap a 67-yard drive and push the lead to 24-3.Donnelly managed the offense well all day, hitting on 9 of 14 passes for 129 yards.
Delaware continued its outstanding play at home as the Hens improved to 15-2 in their last 17 games at Delaware Stadium since 2009.
“You never know what you are going to get after a bye week,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, whose team downed then No. 13 Towson 35-30 in its most recent outing on Oct. 22. “But that was a pretty good performance you saw out there today. Offensively we were able to run the football and keep their offense off the field. It wasn’t pretty today but our kids kept playing. It was fun to have a Senior Day like this.”
While the Delaware offense was grinding out the yardage on the ground, the Delaware defense was rising to the task as well. Junior Ricky Tunstall (at left) got his first start at free safety in over a month and responded by picking off two passes by Richmond quarterback Adam Corps and tying for the team lead with a career-high seven tackles.
The Hens also registered a season-high four sacks, including two by senior end Michael Atunrase (at right), blocked a short field goal attempt, and recovered a fumble by Corps with Richmond driving midway through the final stanza. The Hens held the Spiders to 308 total yards, including just 34 yards on 21 carries.
“Over the last two weeks we were really concentrating on rushing the passer,” said Atunrase. “We wanted to get at least three sacks today and we got one better. We just wanted to get some hits on him (Corps) and I think we did that tonight. It was great to do it on Senior Day. I’ve been here for five years and I’ve seen Senior Days come and go. You never think you are going to be there, too. This went by way too fast.”
Delaware, which defeated Richmond at home for the first time since 2003, jumped out to a quick 21-3 lead to take control of the game. Travis Hawkins recorded his team-leading fourth interception of the season when he went high to pick off a pass by Corp on Richmond’s first offensive play.
Getting the ball at their own 43-yard line, the Hens went right to work, moving swiftly downfield as Pierce carried five times and Donnelly hooked up with Nihja White on a 34-yard pass. Pierce capped the drive as he scooted into the end zone from one-yard out with 8:59 let in the first stanza.
Richmond answered immediately as the Spiders moved 56 yards on 12 plays and got on the board on a 22-yard field goal by Will Kamin, but Delaware followed that up with another touchdown as Donnelly snuck in from one yard out for his first touchdown of the season with 2:17 left in the opening stanza.
After Laith Wallschleger blocked a 28-yard field goal by Kamin a few minutes later, the Hens extended the lead to 21-3 as they marched 97 yards on 15 plays and ate almost eight minutes off the clock. Pierce capped the drive when he scored from four yards out, lunging into the end zone for the score with 3:12 left in the half.
The Hens upped the lead to 24-3 on a 30-yard field goal by Baner with 6:42 left in the third quarter and the Hens stopped each of the next two Spider drives thanks to interceptions by Tunstall, the second of which he returned 49 yards inside Richmond territory.
“Turnovers have been our Achilles heel all year and it really hurt us again today,” said Richmond head coach Wayne Lineburg. “You have to take care of the ball and certainly Delaware did a better job of that today.”
Corps, a pro prospect who finished the day hitting on 23 of 42 passes for 250 yards, led the Spiders to their only touchdown of the day with 7:35 left to play as he hit Tre Gray down the right sideline for a 38-yard scoring pass.
However, the Spiders could never get closer and sealed their fate when Delaware’s Quincy Barr sacked Corps and forced a fumble on the Delaware 31-yard line that Jamaul Christopher recovered with 3:03 left to play.
Gray caught nine passes for 126 yard and a touchdown, going over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, while Ben Edwards hauled in a career-high nine passes for 73 yards. Reggie Barnette and Darius McMillan led the Spider defensive effort, posting 14 and 13 tackles respectively.