Early Three-Touchdown Lead Helps Hens Hold on for 28-17 Victory Over West Chester in Home Opener
September 10, 2011
Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell
NEWARK, Del. -- A one-time 21-point lead had dwindled to just four early in the fourth quarter of the University of Delaware’s home football opener Saturday night against long-time foe West Chester.
For the vaunted Blue Hen running attack, it was time to say enough is enough. All-American sophomore running back Andrew Pierce (top right) needed just two plays to cover 56 yards and his 44-yard touchdown vaunt was just what the No. 8 ranked Hens needed to pull away for a hard-fought 27-18 victory at Delaware Stadium.
The Blue Hens (1-1) jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead after scoring two touchdowns in a span of just 17 seconds and held off the Golden Ram comeback to post their first win of the season. The Hens upended their nearby NCAA Division II rivals for the 17th straight time since 1993 but the margin of victory was the smallest for the Hens in the series since a 24-17 triumph in 1996.
“It always comes down to the big men up front,” said Delaware junior quarterback Tim Donnelly, who was sharp in his first career start in place of the injured Trevor Sasek as he completed 21 of 28 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. “They just decided they were going to impose their will and put their stamp on this win and that’s what they did. A.P. (Pierce) ran through the holes and once he gets in to the open field, he is a dangerous guy. It was fun out there tonight and good to get the win. There is a lot we can learn from this game and we will come back better next week.”
The Hens have a date with in-state rival Delaware State (2-0) next Saturday at 6 p.m. at Delaware Stadium.
Pierce, the 2010 Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year and the 2011 pre-season Co-Player of the Year, ran 25 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue Hen attack. He has now rushed for over 100 yards in both games this season and has surpassed the 100-yard milestone nine times in 17 career games. He also caught a career-high seven passes for 32 yards during the game.
“I have a smile on my face because we got the win tonight,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who improved to 10-0 all-time vs. West Chester (0-2) and to 9-1 all-time in home openers as the Blue Hen mentor. “I have been coaching long enough to know that this is the key thing and you always have to be happy with a win. We just need to come out and get better this week and really push ourselves. Our kids know that we can be a good football team but we have a long way to go.”
The game looked like it would be a blowout early on as the Hens scored three touchdowns in the first stanza to take a 21-0 lead. Sophomore linebacker Jessel Curry (at right), a first-year transfer from Auburn, made his Delaware Stadium debut memorable as he stepped in front of a Sean McCartney pass and rambled 34 yards with an interception return to open the scoring just over six minutes into the contest.
Pierce scored his first touchdown of the night when he ran seven yards and leaped into the end zone with 34 seconds left in the stanza for a 14-0 lead. Just 17 seconds later, the lead was up to 21-0 as Irv Titre recovered a bad snap at the West Chester 28-yard line to set up Donnelly’s first career touchdown pass, a 28-yarder to a wide-open Mark Schenauer on the first play of the drive.
But the Rams held tough and never let the Hens pull away. Rondell White got the Rams on the board with a two-yard scoring run just under two minutes into the second stanza, ending a streak of nine quarters and 143 minutes that Delaware had held West Chester without a point in the series. The Rams pulled to within 21-10 on 27-yard field goal by Shawn Leo, his fifth in two games this season, with three minutes left in the half.
Following a scoreless third quarter, West Chester pulled to within 21-17 with 10:56 left in the final quarter as backup quarterback Matt Carroll scrambled out of the pocket and hit LaRonn Lee with a 14-yard touchown pass in the left corner of the end zone. Two defensive penalties on Delaware cornerback Marcus Burley aided the 55-yard drive. Lee finished with five catches for 111 yards while White hauled in eight receptions for 83 yards on the night.
But the Hens quickly but a damper on the Rams’ upset plans. After Travis Hawkins returned the kickoff 38 yards to the Delaware 44-yard line, Pierce took over. He ran for 12 yards on first down and then broke loose on his pivotal 44-yard scoring run on the next play to give Delaware some breathing room with 10:10 remaining.
Delaware then locked up the win as they burned 5:15 off the clock with an 11-play drive that ended on downs at the Ram 31-yard line and then got the ball back when Leon Jackson (at left) intercepted a McCartney pass and returned it nine yards to the West Chester 42-yard line with 3:13 left. Jackson, a junior who moved from running back to linebacker in spring drills, saw action on both sides of the ball Saturday night and finished with four tackles.
“I was a little nervous going into this game in terms of not really knowing who we are because of the Navy game (a 40-17 season opening loss last week),” said Keeler, whose team was outgained 360-315 in total yards and had one less first down (21 to 20) than West Chester. “As I told the team, we just didn’t want to let Navy beat us twice. We just are not where we need to be yet.”
Blue Hen Notes....Curry later suffered a neck strain after a tackle and did not return...junior running back David Hayes rushed 10 times for 51 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark for his career on his first carry of the night...in addition to Sasek, who left last week’s Navy game with a knee injury, the Hens also played without starting wide receiver Nihja White who was nursing a hand injury but is expected to return vs. Delaware State...Hens now lead the West Chester series 46-6-1 and have defeated the Rams more than any other opponent....the series is scheduled to end after next year’s game...Keeler is now 51-16 all-time as a head coach at Delaware Stadium...Delaware celebrated Service Appreciation Day and Band Day....game was played before a crowd of 19,593...Donnelly became the first former walk-on to start a game at quarterback for the Hens since Dale Fry in 1993.