Blue Hens drop opener to Rhode Island 21-19: Turnovers doom UD vs. CAA underdog

Delaware tight end Charles Scarff (85) is congratulated by teammate Noah Beh after catching a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — This was supposed to be a chance for Delaware to flex its muscles and get a conference victory in the books.

Somebody forgot to tell Rhode Island.

The underdog Rams took advantage of some huge Blue Hen turnovers and escaped with a 21-19 Colonial Athletic Association football victory before a disappointed Delaware Stadium crowd of 17,945 in No. 15 UD’s season opener on Thursday night.

Just when it looked like the Hens might still pull out a win, senior running back Kani Kane fumbled at the URI 42 with 3:58 remaining. The Rams ran off all but the final 16 seconds of the game as they knocked off Delaware for the second-straight meeting.

The Hens also gave up one touchdown on a fumbled punt snap and another TD when URI tight end Tyler Burke somehow got behind the Hens’ defense for a 57-yard scoring catch on a broken play.

“We just gave away way too many opportunities,” said second-year coach Danny Rocco. “We gave up more plays than we made. The two fumbles were back-breaking. We had a couple dropped passes that were just extraordinarily disappointing.

Delaware’s Andrew Powlowski takes on a couple URI blockers Thursday night. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“You get guys that you really expect to be playmakers and step up and make things happen out there and they just did not really come through tonight.”

Delaware had a chance to tie the game on a big turn of events with 6:45 remaining.

With the Hens trailing 21-13 and facing a fourth-and-goal from the 11, quarterback Pat Kehoe lobbed a pass to receiver Joe Walker, who made a great, one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone. But Walker was ruled out of bounds.

Just as Delaware was lining up for a field-goal try, though, the replay booth called for a review. The call was overturned, giving the Hens the TD.

Delaware then went for two but Kehoe’s quick pass for Jamie Jarmon was partially deflected before falling harmlessly off Jarmon’s hands. That ended up being the Hens’ last real chance to tie the game.

Charles Scarff crosses the goal line after catching a 28-yard pass from Pat Kehoe in the second quarter. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“We will take a conference win any way we can,” said URI coach Jim Fleming, whose team also beat Delaware in 2015, the last time the two programs met. “We gave up some awful plays on defense, but we were able to come back and make some critical plays late.

“Since I have been here, we have been waiting for the opportunity to get a quality win to build upon. It was not a championship-caliber performance, but it was a quality win.”

Kehoe, the fourth-year junior making only the second appearance of his career, played fairly well after a slow start. He ended up completing 12-of-22 passes for 202 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

He should have had a third TD pass. But wide-open fullback Owen Tyler couldn’t pull in a 31-yard pass when Kehoe hit him in stride along the sidelines in the third quarter.

Delaware had to settle for a field goal after the drop.

“We lost for reasons other than Pat,” said Rocco. “Now Pat will play better and he needs to play better. But that really was not the reason we lost the game.”

Kane ran for a game-high 106 yards on 20 carries but lost two fumbles when the Hens had the ball in URI territory. His late fumble came after an impressive 20-yard run on which the Sussex Tech High grad bulled his way through several tackles.

The Hens’ defense was less than spectacular. Delaware finished with a 347-330 edge in yards but forced only one meaningless turnover at the end of the first half.

“Defensively, we did not make a lot of big plays,” said Rocco. “We were not as dynamic as we’ve been. We were not as much as a ball-hawk defense as we have been.”

“I think what we took from last year was that you can be really good,” said linebacker Troy Reeder. “But it only takes one or two plays to lose a game. Ultimately, that’s somewhat what it came down to. … It’s tough. We’ve got to do what we need to do to make the ball bounce our way.”

The first 20 minutes were pretty rough for Delaware.

Blue Hens wide receiver Jamie Jarmon, an Indian River High grad, carries the U.S. flag onto the field before Thursday’s game. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Not only did the Hens’ offense struggle to get anything going but, early in the second half, a high punt snap was bobbled by punter Nick Pritchard and scooped up by URI’s Justice Antrum. He returned the ball a couple yards for a touchdown that gave the Rams a 7-0 lead.

But the mistake seemed to get the Hens’ attention.

Delaware’s offense came to life for the first time in the game and answered with a sharp seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Kehoe found tight end Charles Scarff alone for a 28-yard TD pass that tied the contest at 7-7 with 7:05 left before halftime.

A stop by the Hens’ defense gave the ball right back to the offense. This time Delaware went 59 yards on eight plays for a Frank Raggo 26-yard field goal that gave the Hens their first lead of the season at 10-7.

The big play of the drive came when Kehoe found Kane on a 46-yard screen pass to the URI 26.

In the end, though, there weren’t enough big plays like that for the Hens.

“We had guys who are proven players not really play up to the standard at which we expect them to play,” said Rocco. “How do you really put your finger on why? That’s the hardest thing for me to process right now.

“I felt mid-week that this was going to be a very, very tight game. My instincts, I guess, were right. As the week went on, I started to feel really good about where this team was. But, for whatever reason, tonight we under-performed. I pretty much have to own that.”

Extra points

Linebacker Colby Reeder had an interception and 61-yard reception on the final play of the first half. … Five different players had catches for the Hens, with Jarmon pulling in four for 26 yards. … Newcomer Dajoun Lee ran for 61 yards on only seven carries. … Senior Ray Jones, playing his first game at linebacker after moving from safety, had a game-high 9.5 tackles. … Raggo went 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts, making ones from 26 and 48 yards while missing a 52-yarder.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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