Blue Hens rally for memorable 40-36 upset over Towson

Delaware’s players celebrate after rallying to knock off No. 10 Towson, 40-36, on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — For the entire second half, the two teams had traded punches.

And not just little jabs, either.

Delaware and Towson exchanged some huge swings as they tried desperately to knock the other one out.

The Blue Hens still trailed by three when they started their last drive at the Tigers’ 36 with just 1:51 on the clock Saturday afternoon.

“I walked into the huddle, I said, ‘I love you guys,’” said Delaware quarterback Pat Kehoe. “‘And I can’t wait to celebrate with you.’”

Sure enough, a few tense minutes later, Kehoe and his teammates were storming the Delaware Stadium turf to celebrate No. 21 Delaware’s memorable 40-36 upset of 10th-ranked Towson before a crowd of 14,593 on Saturday evening.

Delaware receiver Vinny Papale snares a three-yard pass from Pat Kehoe for the winning touchdown with 30 seconds left on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

On an otherwise-gloomy homecoming weather-wise, the Hens (4-1 CAA, 6-2 overall) twice rallied from double-digit deficits to stun the Tigers (4-1 CAA, 6-2 overall), who were the Colonial Athletic Association’s last unbeaten squad in conference play.

Delaware is now tied for first place in the league standings with three games remaining — although so are three other squads.

Of course, all that was secondary on Saturday evening.

All that mattered to the Hens was that Kehoe’s three-yard touchdown pass to Vinny Papale with 30 seconds left had given them the lead and then their defense had survived a harrowing finish to give Delaware its fourth-straight win.

A 63-yard kickoff return from Shane Simpson after the Hens’ TD set up the Tigers at the Delaware 33 with 20 seconds remaining. A 17-yard completion got Towson to the 16 with 12 seconds on the clock.

The slugfest then ended with Towson quarterback Tom Flacco throwing two passes into the end zone — one that was dropped by a Tigers’ receiver and, the other, a high throw in the back of the end zone, that fell to the ground as the Hens streamed into the end zone to mob their defense.

Safety Nasir Adderley was the primary defender on both of the last throws. He knows it could have gone either way.

“I’m just fortunate,” Adderley said about the first throw. “I should have been in much better position but you’ve got to go to the next play. And that’s what I did.

“They came right back to me and I kind of knew what I was getting. I made my position a lot better. I’m happy that we were able to finish it off. … It was a great feeling. Unbelievable.”

Second-year Delaware coach called the gritty victory “a giant step” for the program. The Hens trailed 18-6 at halftime and 28-13 midway through the third quarter.

Blue Hen linebacker Buck Jones races down the sideline with an interception as Towson’s Shane Leatherbury – a Delmar High grad – gives chase. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“A lot of mistakes were made out there today. … but we overcame,” said Rocco. “And there’s something really special about that. I’m starting to really sense a camaraderie on this team.

“This (winning) isn’t easy. It is extraordinarily hard. So we’re kind of in that moment together. I’ve seen us rise up and unite and really come together. That locker room here tonight was really extraordinary.”

Kehoe (18-of-32, 4 TDs, 1 interception) and Papale (8 catches-142 yards, 2 TDs) both had career days for the Hens. Returning to the stadium where his brother, Joe, was a hero, Towson’s Flacco was pretty impressive, too.

The junior QB completed 21-of-42 passes for 225 yards with two touchdowns while also running for 55 yards on 11 carries. Several times he somehow got the ball off as he was falling to the ground.

But it was Flacco’s one interception that helped swing the momentum in Delaware’s favor.

With the Hens trailing 28-27, early in the fourth quarter, linebacker Buck Jones stepped in front of an improvised Flacco pass and returned it 35 yards down the sideline to the Tigers’ eight.

Two plays later, Sussex Tech High grad Kani Kane (18 carries-68 yards, 2 TDs) scored from the one. The TD, with 8:17 left in the contest, gave Delaware its first lead of the game at 33-28.

“If there was one big single play for us, it was probably that one there,” Rocco said about Jones’ interception.

Of course, there was more than enough time left for Towson to answer.

The Tigers took back the lead on a 13-play, 70-yard march. One play after Towson converted on a fourth-and-three, Simpson raced in for an 11-yard TD run, capping a big day in which he ran for 123 yards on 21 carries and had 148 more yards on five kickoff returns. He finished with 320 all-purpose yards.

When Delmar High grad Shane Leatherbury, a receiver for the Tigers, tossed a throwback pass to Flacco for the two-point conversion, Towson owned a 36-33 advantage with 2:01 left.

It turns out, the dramatics were just getting underway.

A 47-yard kickoff return by DeJoun Lee set up the Hens at the Towson 36. Like Kehoe, Papale had a good feeling about the final Delaware drive, as well.

“We were in crunch time, we had to make a play,” he said. “If you took one look at the guys in that huddle, you could see that every guy in there knew that we were going to go down and score. We didn’t want a field goal, we wanted to win the game.

“It’s pretty cool when you can see all the guys fully believe that. Then we went down there and did it. It was awesome.”

Extra points

The Hens had a disastrous special-teams day. Two high punt snaps led to nine Towson points while Frank Raggo missed two PAT kicks, snapping his school-record streak of 88 in a row. Lee also fumbled a kickoff that led to a Towson field goal. … Troy Reeder (12) and Adderley (10) both reached double digits in tackles. … Tight end Charles Scarff (four catches-59 yards) caught a TD pass for the fourth straight game. He now has seven for the season and 11 of his career — both one shy of the school tight end record. … Joe Walker added four receptions for 83 yards and a TD. … Delaware’s four-game winning streak is its longest since 2012 while its four-game CAA winning streak is its longest since 2010. … Delmar’s Leatherbury had three catches for 18 yards and two carries for 19 yards.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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