Hens’ Hills earns MVP award in 56-14 win over Hornets

 

Photos: Marc Clery/Delaware State News

NEWARK — After a year away from football, Wes Hills couldn’t wait to get back on the field.

Unfortunately, for Delaware State, the Hornets just happened to be the team standing in his path on opening night.

After missing most of last season with a foot injury, Hills made a triumphant return to the field, running for a career-high 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Delaware rolled to a 56-14 victory over instate rival Delaware State on Thursday night in the season opener for the state’s only two FCS Division I grid programs.

Hills, a junior running back, earned the Nate Beasley Game MVP Award as the Blue Hens improved to 7-0 all-time against the Hornets.

“I had a blast,” Hills said with a smile. “I was out for a year — it was a year’s worth of frustration out there. The fact that I can go back out with my brothers and enjoy myself, it’s incredible.

“We wanted to show Delaware that Delaware football is back. There’s no more just talk, there’s no more just words. We had to go out there and show with action — actions speak louder than words.”

After returning most of their roster from last year’s 4-7 squad, the Hens believe this is the season they turn things around. Thursday’s decisive win was just a step in the right direction.

“I’ve seen it in training camp — I wasn’t surprised by what I saw tonight,” said fourth-year coach Dave Brock. “But to see it in a game and have it translate it into this stadium under the lights, that’s something that I think we all needed to see.”

Delaware outgained DelState, 487 yards to 184. The Hens’ 395 rushing yards were their most since 2000 while their 56 points were the most since 2007.

“You’ve got to stop the run,” said second-year DelState coach Kenny Carter. “They threw it what? Ten times? You’ve got to stop the run. If you don’t stop the run, you’ve got no chance.

“We’re going to have those growing pains when you’ve got 46 guys on your team who weren’t last year,” Carter added. “That’s part of it, those growing pains. We’ll go back to basics and just keep working.”

Delaware jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead, scoring more points in a half than it did in any half last season.

The Hornets helped out by turning the ball over three times in the half, with all three turnovers leading to touchdowns. DSU finished with six turnovers in the contest.

Hills got off to a fast starting, running for a career-high 152 yards and two TDs on 15 carries in the first two quarters alone.

Hills capped off the half with a 59-yard run down the sidelines for a touchdown off a direct snap. Jalen Randolph (11 carries-55 yards), who was also returning from a season-ending injury, and quarterback Joe Walker both scored TDs on a short runs.

The Hens outgained DelState, 275 yards to 103 in the first half.

Delaware didn’t slow down in the third quarter, scoring twice in the first six minutes of the second half to open up a 42-0 advantage.

A 44-yard run by Hills set up a second TD run for Randolph before a second interception from linebacker Anthony Jackson led to a nice 25-yard touchdown lob from Walker to receiver Diante Cherry. The scoring catch along the sidelines pushed the Hens’ lead to 42-0.

The six takeaways were the most in a game for Delaware since 2003.

“In the defensive room, we just preach about blood in the water and play like piranhas,” said Jackson. “That’s what we did tonight. It was just a beautiful thing to see it unfold.

“We believe if we play to our standard then the sky’s the limit for this team.”

DelState got on the board when new quarterback Daniel Epperson found receiver Mason Rutherford on a six-yard scoring pass midway through the third quarter.

But when Delaware’s second-string QB, Blake Rankin, tossed a 10-yard scoring pass to tight end Charles Scarff on the final play of the third quarter, the Hens’ lead was back to 49-7. Scarff, the 6-foot-5, 250-yard Rutgers transfer, outjumped a defender in the back corner of the end zone and got his feet inbounds.

Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Penn State transfer Troy Reeder stepped in front of a pass and ran 13 yards with the interception for his first UD touchdown. It was the Hens’ fourth interception of the night and made Delaware’s advantage 56-7.

It was also a special moment for Reeder, the former Salesianum star whose father, Dan, was a star fullback for Delaware.

“I’ll remember tonight for forever,” said Reeder, who had a team-high four tackles. “I definitely wanted that (touchdown). It was just so cool to celebrate with my team after. A lot of the guys on the team knew how much tonight meant to me. They had my back.

“You could see that they were as excited as I was. It was really special. It says a lot about this team.”

Extra points

The Hens are now 300-100-4 at home in the 65-year history of Delaware Stadium. … Thomas Jefferson added 70 yards on 13 carries for Delaware. … Walker completed 6-of-9 passes for 66 yards. He did have a well-thrown 59-yard scoring pass dropped by Jamie Jarmon. … Standout Blue Hen defensive tackle Bilal Nichols left the field on crutches at halftime with a right leg injury. Starting guard Mario Farinella also left the game with a leg injury. … Defensive end John Nassib had a first-half interception for the Hens. … New Delaware punter Will Stephenson, a transfer from North Carolina State, got off a 52-yard kick on his first attempt as a Blue Hen. A senior, it was the first official punt in Stephenson’s college career. … Delaware attempted the only field goal of the night with Frank Raggo missing a 41-yard kick in the fourth quarter.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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