Hens welcome another FBS challenge

With top running back Wes Hills out with an injured left elbow, Senior Jalen Randolph (above) and sophomore Thomas Jefferson will have to fill the void. Randolph ran for 105 yards and a TD against Lafayette last week. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

With top running back Wes Hills out with an injured left elbow, Senior Jalen Randolph (above) and sophomore Thomas Jefferson will have to fill the void. Randolph ran for 105 yards and a TD against Lafayette last week. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Delaware didn’t beat North Carolina last fall, of course.

But the Blue Hens did only trail the mighty Tar Heels by six points late in the third quarter.

So as Delaware gets ready to take on another FBS Division I foe, Wake Forest, on Saturday, Blue Hen coach Dave Brock hopes his players can at least feel they have a shot at competing with the Demon Deacons.

“You’d like them to take a belief that if we play like we’re capable of playing. … that you can go down there and go toe-to-toe with Wake Forest,” Brock said on Monday.

“It’s a different team, different schemes, different players (from UNC). … But you hope the players do a great job of prep this week and go down there and take their shot.”

Delaware (2-0) will be a big underdog when it faces Wake Forest (2-0) in football on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Winston-Salem, N.C. The contest is being televised on-line on ESPN-3.

The Demon Deacons just knocked off Duke, 24-14, on Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak against the Blue Devils. Including last year’s 41-14 loss at North Carolina, the Hens have lost five straight against FBS opponents.

As much as Delaware will try to figure out a way to win, there’s also something of a nothing-to-lose attitude about the opportunity. Wake Forest plays in 31,500-seat BB&T Field.

“It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us going down there,” said Brock. “In all respects I think they’ll be bigger and stronger and faster and there’s certainly more of them.

“Every time you play an FBS team, I think — for the players — it’s an opportunity to measure yourself,” he added. “It should be a fun opportunity. It should be an opportunity to play in front of one of the bigger crowds will play in front of all year. It should be unique and special for them.”

Senior offensive lineman Connor Bozick, for one, loves getting chances like this. The two programs have met only once before, with Wake Forest edging the Hens, 7-0, in 1932 in a contest played in Wilmington.

“It’s always fun whenever you can go to a bigger stadium,” said Bozick. “With our team, the bigger the stage, the bigger the lights, we all love that. TV game. … when there’s a lot on the line, we like going and being in those situations.”

Hills out for Wake

The Hens will be without their top running back, Wes Hills, at Wake Forest.

Hills injured his left elbow on the second play from scrimmage in last Saturday’s 24-6 win at Lafayette.

Running back Wes Hills is helped off the field by coach Dave Brock and UD medical staff after injuring his left elbow in Saturday’s game at Lafayette. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Running back Wes Hills is helped off the field by coach Dave Brock and UD medical staff after injuring his left elbow in Saturday’s game at Lafayette. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Brock said Delaware hopes to have the junior back in time for its Colonial Athletic Association schedule. After an open date next weekend, the Hens start their CAA slate at James Madison on Oct. 1.

Brock said he thought it took Delaware’s offense some time to recover from Hills’ injury during Saturday’s game. The Hens trailed 6-3 before scoring three touchdowns in the final 16 minutes.

“I think it’s like getting punched in the stomach,” said Brock. “Clearly, he (Hills) is a physical talent. He’s a very, very good player. But I think the thing that is undervalued by people outside the program is how valuable a player he is from an energy perspective. From an attitude perspective … he brings an awful lot to the table other than carrying the ball.”

Hills, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, ran for 212 yards in Delaware’s season-opening victory over Delaware State. He returned the opening kickoff 50 yards against Lafayette.

Hills went down in pain after his short run into the line of scrimmage against the Leopards. He kicked his legs in pain as the trainers worked on him.

After being taken to the locker room, Hills watched the game from the sidelines with his left arm in a sling.

“You feel for him,” said Brock. “And I think the players felt for him. We had to get back locked in and focused.”

“You always hate to see one of your brothers go down like that,” said Bozick. “He was in pain.”

The Hens have four running backs with considerable playing experience. Senior Jalen Randolph and sophomore Thomas Jefferson, who both ran for 100 yards against Lafayette, will be in the backfield against Wake Forest.

Brown to sit for half

Delaware didn’t agree with the targeting penalty called against cornerback Malcolm Brown early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win.

Leopards’ quarterback Drew Reed was running on a third-and-long when Brown leveled him with a hard hit to the chest.

By rule, the officials looked at a video replay of the incident before giving Brown an automatic ejection. The sophomore will have to sit out the first half of the Wake Forest contest.

“In some of those cases, it’s really, really challenging with the way it’s going,” said Brock. “I’m for player safety. I don’t think kids should be hit intentionally, the wrong way. But these guys are guaranteed 11 opportunities. … That’s challenging when somebody could potentially lose 10 percent of their season.

“You certainly see that tackle 30 times a game on a running back or a wide receiver. … We felt like it was a really, really physical tackle. We felt like it was a good tackle. He hit him with his shoulder, he wrapped his arms.”

Brown, who was sidelined all last season with a broken jaw, was one of Delaware’s best defensive players on Saturday. He had a team-high five tackles, two pass breakups and made an acrobatic interception in the first half.

“Malcolm was playing the best game he’s ever played at Delaware,” said Brock. “It’s not even close. He was our defensive player of the week. It’s just frustrating that that went the day it did.”

Extra points

Brock said he counted four dropped passes by the Hens against Lafayette. One of them was a long pass to Jamie Jarmon that would have gone for a touchdown. It was the second such drop in two weeks for the former Indian River High star QB. …. “When you throw the ball 15 times and you have four drops, that’s 30-plus percent,” said Brock. “That’s too many.” … Brock said that starting offensive tackle Mario Farinella, who injured his foot in the opener against Delaware State, is now out for the season. … Starting defensive tackle Bilal Nichols, who watched the Lafayette game in street clothes with a leg injury, is close to being able to play against Wake Forest. … Defensive lineman Aaron Donalson also has a leg injury but it is not expected to be season-ending.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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