Blue Hens Bounce Back in a Big Way as Delaware Knocks Off League Unbeaten Towson with 35-30 Victory
October 29, 2011
Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell
TOWSON, Md.. -- The Blue Hens are back.
Thanks to a gutsy performance from running back Andrew Pierce (at right), three big kickoff returns, and fourth quarter interceptions by Michael Atunrase (at left) and Paul Worrilow, the University of Delaware raced back into the post-season playoff race as the Hens bounced back from two sub-par efforts and posted a 35-30 Colonial Athletic Association football victory over rival Towson Saturday night at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Playing in a light snow and frigid 39 degree temperatures, the two teams traded the lead five times before the 21st ranked Blue Hens (5-4, 3-3 CAA) took the lead for good on Pierce’s third touchdown of the game, a five-yard burst with 2:05 left to play.
“We just needed a win, and more importantly a win over a very good team,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who avoided a rare three-game losing streak by his team, something that has happened just twice in his decade at the helm of the Blue Hens. “And we got that tonight against an outstanding Towson team. Our mental challenge after two straight losses was just to man-up and not put our heads down and not let bad plays bother us. This is exactly what we needed. We have been pressing, so our mantra was to just go play and we did that.”
The game wasn’t decided until a desperation pass into a crowded pack in the end zone by Towson quarterback Grant Enders on the final play of the game was swatted away, setting off a wild celebration on the Blue Hen sideline.
No. 13 ranked Towson (6-2, 4-1 CAA), one of the nation’s most improved teams after winning just three league games over the last three seasons, lost its first league game of the season and suffered its first setback at home in five outings this fall.
Delaware, which will take a week off next Saturday before returning to action Nov. 12 for the season finale against Richmond, defeated Towson for the fifth straight time.
Pierce gained a season-high 158 yards on a career-high 30 carries and scored three times, giving the Hens their first lead at 10-7 early in the second quarter, scoring again late in the first half to push the UD lead to 29-23, and then bursting into the end zone from five yards out for the game-winner with 2:05 left to play.
“I really wasn’t thinking about how many times I was carrying the ball during the game,” said Pierce, a sophomore All-American who has now surpassed the 100-yards milestone six times in nine games this season and 14 times in 23 career games. “I just wanted to win for the team. We knew we could move the ball today and we had a good game plan coming in. We have a good offensive line, they opened the holes, and I got through them.”
Thanks to Pierce, the Hens gained 201 of their 257 total yards on the ground and overcame two turnovers.
Towson piled up 388 total yards but the Tigers were hurt by three turnovers, most notably the two interceptions in the final quarter. Enders completed 15 of 30 passes for 159 yards and also picked up 72 yards on the ground while freshman sensation Terrance West rushed 27 times for 155 yards and scored four times, the second time he has hit the end zone four times this season.
Delaware picked up a school-record 240 yards on five kickoff returns during the night, including an 86-yarder for a touchdown by Travis Hawkins in the second quarter and an 80-yard scamper by freshman Michael Johnson (at right) that set up a first quarter touchdown. Johnson also had a 51-yard return to start the game, marking the first time the same player has had two returns of 50 or more yards in the same game in school history.
The three returns of over 50 yards marked the first time in school history that Delaware as a team had three returns of 50 or more yards.
The two teams put up a combined 65 points in the first three quarters, but a scoreless final stanza was anything but boring. After Pierce put the Hens for good on his third quarter touchdown romp, Towson had three more chance to regain the lead but could never get it done.
Atunrase, a senior All-CAA defensive end, picked a good time to register his first career interception as he jumped high to gather in an Enders pass after Towson had driven all the way down to Delaware 19-yard line with 11:05 left.
Delaware couldn’t capitalize after the turnover, but the Hens forced Towson to punt on its next possession and came up with another big turnover on the next drive as linebacker Paul Worrilow picked off Enders again at the Towson 38-yard line.
Once again, Delaware could not capitalize as the Hens could muster just 15 yards on five plays as they moved down to the Towson 21-yard line. Delaware had the chance to put things away but Sean Baner’s 28-yard field goal was blocked by Nick Oates with 52 seconds left, giving the Tigers one more chance to continue their season heroics.
Enders completed passes to Tremayne Dameron and Leon Kinnard to move the ball to the Delaware 43-yard line. But Enders had to fall on a bad snap and lost six yards, followed that with a pass into the turf to stop the clock, and then threw another incomplete pass after being harassed by Delaware’s Quincy Barr.
That set up the final play of the game as Enders took the snap, moved to his right, and threw a desperation pass into the end zone. A mass of Delaware bodies knocked the ball away, giving the Hens the much-needed victory.
Towson had jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game as West scored from 46 yards out on the first drive of the game with 12:10 left and D.J. Soven followed with a 28-yard field goal with 4:12 remaining. Delaware finally got on the board on a four-yard run by quarterback Tim Donnelly. The 11-yard drive was set up thanks to the 80-yard return by Johnson.
The teams then traded the lead three times before halftime with the Hens finally taking a 29-23 lead into the break. Pierce’s 23-yard dive gave the Hens a 14-10 lead, a seven-yard scoring run by West gave Towson a 16-14 advantage, and Hawkins’ 86-yard score on the ensuring kickoff put UD back on top 22-16. Another short Pierce scoring run gave the Hens their biggest lead of the night at 29-16 before Towson narrowed the gap on West’s third score of the night, a eight-yard burst with just 26 seconds left.
Towson took its final lead midway through the third quarter when West, the nation’s leading scorer with 18 touchdowns, tallied his fourth score of the night with 7:44 remaining for a 30-29 advantage. That lead lasted less than six minutes as Pierce capped a 65-yard drive with his five-yard run with 2:05 left to give the Hens the five-point cushion.
Hen Scratchings.....Pierce moved into sixth place on the all-time Delaware career rushing yardage list with 2,610 yards, moving past quarterback Bill Vergantino, who had 2,564 yards in 1989-92...Delaware WR Nihja White caught just two passes for 29 yards but extended his pass-catching streak to 31 games, the third longest streak in Delaware history...both teams converted 6 of 14 third downs on the night...Jake Giusti and Hawkins led the Blue Hen defensive effort with nine tackles each...Danzel White led Towson with 11 tackles...the participants of the sixth annual Pigskin Pass were honored during a ceremony in the first half...although the annual relay run from Newark to Towson involving student-athletes from the two schools was canceled due to the weather, over $20,000 was raised to benefit Special Olympics programs in Delaware and Maryland.