Hen defense dominates in 22-3 home finale win over Albany

Delaware safeties Nassir Adderley (23) and Ray Jones (7) bring down Albany’s Karl Mofor. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — One by one, the seniors got up to say their goodbyes.

Going into their last home game, the Delaware football players thanked their teammates and talked about their careers on Friday night.

But center Brody Kern politely refused.

“I got up and I was like, ‘I’m not going to say thank you yet, because we’re not done yet,’” he told his teammates. “All I’m asking is we win tomorrow.”

And that’s what the Blue Hens did, reeling off 19 unanswered points in the second half to down Albany, 22-3, in a Colonial Athletic Association matchup before a crowd of 16,333 at chilly Delaware Stadium.

Now 5-2 in the CAA, 7-3 overall, Delaware believes a win at rival Villanova next Saturday in its regular-season finale will put it in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010.

So whether this was the seniors’ last game in Delaware Stadium is still up in the air. But they were going to do everything in their power to earn another game.

Safety Ray Jones goes up for one of the Hens’ three interceptions on Saturday. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

What the Hens got on Saturday was a dominating defensive performance. The Great Danes (1-6 CAA, 3-7 overall) managed just six first downs and 120 yards — the lowest totals Delaware has surrendered in six seasons.

The amazing thing was that 80 of those yards and five of the first downs came on Albany’s second possession, an 18-play, almost-nine-minute march that resulted in a field goal for the Great Danes’ lone points of the contest.

“There was a reality that, ‘Oh my gosh, this could be a long afternoon if we cannot get them off the field,’” coach Danny Rocco said about Albany’s long drive. “But our kids have a lot of resolve on defense. And I think we have a lot of talent.

“So, as the game wears on, they’re just given more opportunities to make plays. I think, when it was all said and done, we wore them down a little bit today and that was the objective, really, from the very beginning.”

“We made a couple changes at halftime,” said junior safety Ray Jones. “After that, we came out and played our game like we were supposed to. We held them to three points and 120 yards, you really can’t do anything better than that.”

Delaware capped off its virtuoso defensive performance with three interceptions and a fumble recovery, all in the second half.

Offensively, the Hens scuffled for most of the first half. Only Frank Raggo’s 29-yard field goal on the last play of the first half allowed them to go in tied, 3-3, at intermission.

Freshman running back Khory Spruill ran for a season-high 86 yards and the first two TDs of his career. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Another Raggo field goal, this one from 36 yards, gave Delaware its first lead at 6-3 late in the third quarter.

That play was followed quickly by Christian Lohin’s block of an Albany punt in the end zone. The ball bounced out of the end zone for a safety that pushed the Hens’ lead to 8-3 going into the fourth quarter.

Finally, Delaware sealed the victory by turning to Khory Spruill. The freshman running back got in because starter Kani Kane (Sussex Tech) went down with a shoulder injury.

After not carrying the ball until the second half, the 6-foot, 215-pound Spruill ran for a season-high 86 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. The fourth-quarter TDs, on runs of six and one yard, were the first of his career.

“I watch our practice film each week and Khory catches my eye every single day,” said Rocco. “I mean there’s a reason we played him in August. I told him four weeks ago, I said ‘We’re going to need you in November.’ As it is, we certainly needed him today.”

“Coach always tells me to be ready to go every game,” said Spruill. “I practice with the ‘ones’ (starters) every week. It was really just about being ready when your number is called.

“Kani went down and I just wanted to make sure I filled his shoes the right way. I had to step up, not be a freshman and just make plays.”

The Hens, who also got 85 yards on 11 carries from quarterback Joe Walker, finished with a 14-minute edge in time of possession.

Whatever Delaware’s chances of making the playoffs, next week’s Villanova game is huge for the Hens.

Delaware has lost five years in a row and 10 of the last 11 meetings with the Wildcats (2-5, 4-6). The Hens would love to end that streak.

“There’s nobody on this team that has beaten Villanova,” said Kern. “So to say this game wasn’t circled on our schedule from the day Coach Rocco stepped in here, and last season ended, I’d be lying to you. If was definitely hard this week keeping that off our mind.”

“We have a chip on our shoulder right now,” said Jones. “We’re going to go up there with confidence. In practice all week, we’re going to go out there and compete. We’re going to give it our all and that’s all we’ve got to do.”

Extra points

Punter Nick Pritchard had two nice kicks that Jones ran under and caught at Albany’s one and two-yard lines. … Rocco didn’t know the extent of Kane’s injury. Kane ran for 34 yards on 10 carries before being hurt. … QB J.P. Caruso completed 7-of-11 passes for 51 yards. … Receiver Jamie Jarmon returned to the field after missing last week’s game with a bruised lung. He had two catches for six yards and didn’t run the ball. … Delaware’s interceptions came from defensive tackle Blaine Woodson, Jones and linebacker Anthony Jackson. … Linebacker Jalen Kindle had a team-high nine tackles.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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