Kick returns doom Hens in 35-25 CAA loss to Richmond

Smyrna High grad Will Knight posted his second straight 100-yard rushing game. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Surrendering a touchdown on a kickoff return can be brutal.

Not only does it give the other team a huge lift, it kills the momentum your squad just gained by scoring on the play before.

“It’s not just us on the field, it’s the fans, the crowd,” said Delaware safety Kedrick Whitehead. “We get things going our way and then that happens. It’s like, hit the reset button and you have to start all over again. We have to find another way to get momentum to come back to our side.”

No. 19 Delaware somehow managed to give up a pair of TDs on kickoff returns in just the first half and never fully recovered before falling to Richmond, 35-25, on homecoming Saturday afternoon at Delaware Stadium.

The Blue Hens (2-2 CAA, 4-4 overall) did close within three points in the third quarter after trailing by 18 at halftime. But the Spiders (3-1 CAA, 4-4 overall) answered with another big play — a 63-yard touchdown pass — and Delaware never seriously threatened again.

Delaware running back DeJoun Lee stretches the ball across the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown run on Saturday.

Both coaches agreed that Aaron Dykes’ two kickoff returns — a 100-yarder in the first quarter and an 88-yarder in the second quarter — were back-breakers. It’s the first time UD gave up two kickoff return TDs in a game since a 52-18 loss to McNeese State in the 1995 I-AA playoffs.

“Anytime you give up a kickoff return, it’s hard to win a game — giving up one,” said Richmond’s Russ Huesman. “Giving up two is extremely hard.”

“The thing that disappointed me the most is I thought their team played harder than our team did today — particularly in the first half,” said Delaware’s Danny Rocco. “They had four plays of 60-plus yards in the game. … At the end of the day, that’s the difference in the football game, you can shape it however you want.”

Delaware actually looked like it might still have a chance to pull out a victory when it grabbed the momentum in the third quarter.
A quick, two-play, 56-yard drive was capped off by a 29-yard scoring run from Will Knight (Smyrna). A defensive stop was then followed by a 16-play, 80-yard march.

Pat Kehoe’s 14-yard TD pass to tight end Bryce DeMaille got the Hens suddenly back within 28-25 with 3:03 remaining in the third quarter.

However, that’s when Richmond quarterback Joe Mancuso (21-of-29 for 280 yards) found Keyston Fuller (8 catches-161 yards) all alone down the sidelines for a 63-yard scoring pass. Delaware never really challenged again.

QB Pat Kehoe made his second start in a row, throwing for 164 yards and a TD.

The Hens had the ball only twice in the final 16 minutes. The Spiders killed off the last 7:43 of the game with a 12-play, 28-yard drive.

Richmond out-gained Delaware, 418 yards to 343. The Spiders also converted 7-of-12 third-down chances plus one fourth down.

“Defensively, we really struggled to get off the field,” said Rocco. “We did fight our way back into the game. … we just couldn’t quite get enough stops to really feel like we would be able to take control or take the lead.”

While quarterback Nolan Henderson (Smyrna) was cleared to play after suffering a concussion two weeks ago, Rocco stayed with Kehoe for the whole game. The senior completed 12-of-21 passes for 164 yards with the one TD and no interceptions.

Kehoe was sacked four times for 21 yards.

“Pat had more of the reps (in practice),” said Rocco. “Pat was not the reason we lost today. We were moving the ball well enough with Pat in the game to continue. I don’t really have any regrets on the decision.”

“We were moving towards where we wanted to be,” Kehoe said about the Hens’ third-quarter comeback. “But we weren’t able to maintain the momentum on our side.”

Safety Kedrick Whitehead came down with an interception off a tipped pass.

Knight made some more big plays, running for 101 yards and the TD on 13 carries while adding 45 yards on three receptions.

Richmond seemed to be particularly motivated by its one-point loss to Yale last week. The Hens, on the other hand, seemed somewhat uninspired — especially in the first half.

Rocco thought Richmond’s kickoff returns were a sign of it.

“You see it in every game, week to week, in a lot of teams,” he said. “It’s just a reality. Every week, you’re not firing on all cylinders, you’re not playing at your best, you’re not playing at your highest level. It’s disappointing.

“We’re young. That’s probably a factor in that. But you see it on other sidelines, too. It’s the old reality that, week to week, it’s a different game.”

Extra points

Besides his passing yards, Mancuso also ran the ball 15 times for a team-high 95 yards with a pair of short TDs. … DeJoun Lee added 55 yards and a five-yard TD on 16 carries with 120 yards on kickoff returns. … The Spiders are only 13-5 all-time in Newark. … Richmond’s Dykes finished with 260 all-purpose yards, including 226 on kickoff returns. … Whitehead (Middletown) had a game-high 12 tackles with an interception and a pass breakup. … Delaware didn’t have any sacks in the contest. … The Hens play a 2 p.m. game at Towson next Saturday.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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