Blue Hens drop season opener to Jacksonville as offense sputters

NEWARK — Given Delaware’s inexperience, this wasn’t totally unexpected.

But the reasons for the Blue Hens’ offensive struggles didn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Delaware had trouble accomplishing much offensively all night, eventually falling to underdog Jacksonville, 20-14, in its football season opener at Delaware Stadium on Friday night.

Wes Hills ran for a team-high 88 yards on 16 carries. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Wes Hills ran for a team-high 88 yards on 16 carries. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Alternating between a pair of quarterbacks playing in their first college game, the Hens finished with only 297 yards as the Dolphins did just enough on offense to knock off Delaware before a crowd of 17,472.

“Certainly a bitterly disappointing loss,” said third-year coach Dave Brock. “We didn’t play even remotely close enough to win the game offensively.

“To give up (only) 13 points, you feel like that should be winning football. But we’re going to win as a team and lose as a team. We certainly didn’t play well enough offensively to generate what we needed to generate to win the game.”

The Hens never led after Jacksonville drove 85 yards on 14 plays for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession. But they were able to tie the game at 7-7 on a trick play just before halftime.

The Dolphins, though, used a pair of second-half field goals to take the lead for good. They then more-or-less sealed the victory when they sacked Delaware quarterback Joe Walker and recovered the fumble for a touchdown that stretched their lead to 20-7 with 2:09 remaining.

The Hens were able to answer on a TD with 1:20 on the clock. But Delaware touched the ensuing onsides kick attempt before it went 10 yards and the Dolphins ran out the clock.

“A lot of different things went wrong,” said Brock. “It certainly wasn’t only the quarterback or only this or only that. … We didn’t get it done in any phase of what we tried to do offensively.

“It’s disappointing that we played that poorly,” he said later. “And we’ve got to get it fixed.”

It didn’t help that the Hens had poor field position most of the night.

Delaware started six of its 13 possessions inside its own 10 yard line. No wonder the Hens ended up punting on seven straight possessions in one stretch.

So plays like a fumble by Wes Hills on the Jacksonville six after an 11-play, 80-yard drive loomed especially costly afterward.

“It wasn’t an effort thing,” said junior running back Jalen Randolph. “I think everybody played hard. … We just didn’t get it going. We weren’t good enough tonight.”

Junior Blake Rankin started the first and third quarters at QB with Walker, a redshirt freshman, playing in the second and fourth quarters.

Rankin was 6-of-10 for 60 yards while Walker was 3-of-9 for 52 yards passing. Both ran for 14 yards.

Ironically, though, it was receiver Diante Cherry who threw the Hens’ first touchdown of the season.

With the ball at the Jacksonville 22 late in the second quarter, Walker laterelled the ball to Cherry. Cherry, who played some quarterback in high school, pulled up and lobbed a TD pass to Randolph.

The ball looked like it might be intercepted. But Randolph cut in front of a Dolphins defender to make a leaping catch for the touchdown that tied the score at 7-7 with just 1:20 left in the first half.

“At first I was just trying to make sure he didn’t get to it,” said Randolph, who scored both Delaware TDs. “But then I just tried to make a play on it.”

Whatever momentum the Hens had didn’t last, however. Delaware totalled only 113 yards and four first downs in the second half — with 46 yards coming on its last-gasp scoring drive.

“To come out in the second half and play as poorly as we did is frustrating,” said Brock. “There was no carryover from the first half.”

Safety Ryan Torza tries to make a tackle in Saturday night's game. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell).

Safety Ryan Torza tries to make a tackle in Saturday night’s game. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell).

Quarterback Kade Bell was Jacksonville’s main offensive weapon. The senior completed 25-of-43 passes for 269 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The son of head coach Kerwin Bell also ran for a team-high 28 yards on eight carries.

Still, Delaware forced the Dolphins to punt seven times. Jacksonville was also just 5-of-16 on third-down conversions.

“That’s a team that has everybody back and averaged almost 40 points and 500 yards (last year),” said Brock. “They’re a good football team offensively and we were able to certainly slow them down and keep them out of the end zone. I was proud of the kids defensively in terms of how they competed.”

Extra points

Along with being the Hens’ leading rusher, Hills (16 carries-88 yards) is still probably the team’s best special-teams player. He was the first player down to make the tackle on a pair of kickoff returns while also returning a kick 41 yards in the first half. … Cherry was also Delaware’s leading receiver with five catches for 68 yards. … The Hens were only 6-of-15 on third-down conversions. … Junior safety Ryan Torza had an interception in the fourth quarter. … The Hens have now scored in 212 home games dating back to 1983. … Delaware is home again next Saturday when it hosts Lafayette at 6 p.m.

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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