Blue Hens shock No. 5 Elon 28-16: First win over top 5 team in eight years puts UD back on FCS D-I football map

UD’s players celebrate after their 28-16 upset of No. 5 Elon on Saturday afternoon. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — The football seemed to hang in the air for an eternity.

In that moment, the only question was whether Vinny Papale would be able to run under it or not.

And when the senior receiver finally pulled in the long, arcing 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Pat Kehoe, Delaware finally had something it had waited a long time for — a victory that puts it back on the FCS Division I football map.

Papale’s TD with just 7:01 remaining gave the Blue Hens the lead for good before they shocked No. 5 Elon, 28-16, before a Parents Day crowd of 19,209 at Delaware Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

It was the first time Delaware (2-1 CAA, 4-2 overall) beat a top-five team since 2010, which is also the last time the Hens made the NCAA FCS Division I playoffs.

Delaware tight end Charles Scarff pulls in a six-yard scoring pass to give the Hens the lead early in the third quarter. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“He aired that one out a little bit,” Papale said about the TD pass. “It was up there for a while. But it was a perfect ball, honestly. He put it right to a spot where the defender couldn’t get it.

“Just to score a touchdown in that situation is pretty surreal, pretty fun, pretty cool.”

In a back-and-forth game, Delaware trailed 16-14 when it took over the ball at its own 32 with just 9:45 remaining.

But, with perhaps their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Hens put together back-to-back scoring drives to put away a double-digit victory over the Phoenix (2-1, 4-2), who upset No. 2 James Madison a week ago.

Delaware marched 68 yards on six plays for Papale’s TD before following with a six-play 53-yard scoring drive to close it out.

Kani Kane, the Sussex Tech grad who went over the 1,000-yard mark, celebrates his two-yard touchdown run with 4:02 remaining. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Sussex Tech High grad Kani Kane (19-carries-124 yards) ran the ball five straight times for 50 yards on the final drive. The senior, who had just reached the 1,000-yard mark for his career, bulled his way in for a two-yard TD run with 4:02 left to seal the upset.

“I’d like to think what you saw there was the heart and soul of our team,” said coach Danny Rocco. “It was just all right there for us. I do think that’s what we’ve all been kind of searching for. We’ve got to embrace it. We’ve got to build on it and we’ve got to enjoy it when you’re in that moment.”

“In all three phases of the game, we were just able to stay poised,” said senior receiver Joe Walker. “Just play as hard as you can and control what you can control. Just do what you do and we should be able to win this game.”

Kehoe ended up completing 16-of-30 passes for 144 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

After a pretty lackluster offensive start to the game, the Hens put together a clutch drive just before halftime.

Trailing 10-0, Delaware went on a quick six-play, 53-yard march that took only 51 seconds. Kehoe found tight end Charles Scarff, who made an acrobatic catch to stay inbounds for a seven-yard TD reception.

Delaware linebacker Troy Reeder finished with a game-high 15 tackles, including five for losses on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

The touchdown — which was video-reviewed — came with just 11 seconds left before halftime to get the Hens back within 10-7.

Delaware then took the lead on a 69-yard, seven-play drive early in the third quarter. Again, Kehoe found the 6-foot-6 Scarff, who outjumped an Elon defender for a six-yard scoring reception that put the Hens ahead, 14-10.

This time, though, the big play was a 37-yard pass from Walker to Gene Coleman to get Delaware to the Phoenix 20.

Walker, the converted QB, probably saw his most action out of the wildcat formation this season. He ran the ball four times for 17 yards, caught two passes for 17 yards and completed the long pass.

Elon was playing without running back Malcolm Summers, the CAA’s leading rusher, who was still banged up from the JMU game. The Phoenix then lost starting QB Travis Cheek to an apparent serious knee injury in the first quarter.

Backup quarterback Jalen Greene, who had seen his share of playing time this year, came in and completed 11-of-26 passes for 140 yards while also running for 36 yards on eight carries.

But Delaware’s defense limited Elon to just three field goals after giving up a first-quarter touchdown. The Phoenix finished with only 289 yards — 125 yards under its average — and 12 first downs.

Senior linebacker Troy Reeder had a big game, finishing with 15 tackles, including five for losses. He had a big sack on Elon’s final drive.

“We were flying around,” said Reeder. “It was a nice, cool day. Of our 11 starters, I think a good amount of us played the entire game. Some of my first-contact hits, I just felt a pile on top of me. I was getting in on piles, too. … We were all over the place today.

“Probably Sunday night when we started breaking down film, guys just saw it as what it was. It was No. 5 coming in to play us at home and we love playing at home. I think guys did a phenomenal job preparing all week. Hopefully, with the rest of our schedule, we continue to prepare like we’re playing a top-five team.”

That schedule continues next week with a trip to New Hampshire to face a Wildcat squad (1-5) that is having an uncharacteristically rough season.

But Rocco didn’t want to look at the big picture right away on Saturday.

He talked about how great it was seeing the big crowd get excited late in the game and seeing his players perform well in the clutch.

“There were some times out there today when we had so much energy in that stadium that it was just joyful for me,” said Rocco. “And I’m hoping it was joyful for our fans. There was excitement and energy, our kids were playing hard.

“We’ve learned from our hard defeats. This team has been through a lot of adversity. This team has been challenged, doubted, disbelieved and we keep coming back every day going to work, focusing on the next day, staying together, staying united and offering hope and, today, joy.”

Extra points

Delaware’s last win over a top-five team was over No. 3 James Madison in 2010. The last time the Hens beat a top-five team in Newark was over No. 2 Wofford in the 2003 FCS semifinals. … Seven different Hens caught a pass, led by Scarff with five receptions for 43 yards. Papale had four catches for 58 yards. … Senior Jamie Jarmon (Indian River) has caught a pass in 21 straight games. … Saturday’s home crowd was Delaware’s biggest since 2015.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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