Late touchdown lifts Towson to 18-17 stunner over Hens

Blue Hen running back Kareem Williams ran for 80 yards on 12 carries including a 30-yard TD run in the third quarter. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

TOWSON, Md. — Last week was one of those joy-of-victory moments for the Delaware football team.

But on Saturday came the agony of defeat.

When the Blue Hens’ offense left the door open, underdog Towson charged through it, scoring the winning touchdown with just 35 seconds left to topple No. 23 Delaware, 18-17, at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

The agonizing loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Hens (3-2 CAA, 5-3 overall) and probably knocked them right back out of the FCS Top 25 ­— a place they had just returned to last week for the first time in three years.

It probably also leaves Delaware needing to win its final three regular-season games to make the NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010.

“I’m very disappointed in the result,” said first-year Delaware coach Danny Rocco, whose team knocked off No. 11 Richmond in double overtime last week.

“I thought, defensively, we did enough good things here today to win a football game. … (But) offensively, we did not take advantage of our opportunities. We had three takeways that didn’t lead to a lot of points.”

After forcing the Hens to punt with 3:05 remaining, the Tigers (1-4 CAA, 3-5 overall) drove 52 yards on eight plays for the winning touchdown.

Quarterback Ryan Stover dropped in a nice 13-yard scoring pass to receiver Sam Gallahan on a fade pattern. Gallahan had a step or two on Delaware freshman cornerback Niquel Hill.

Aidan O’Neill then booted the deciding PAT kick as Towson’s players celebrated.

“I told the guys, we’ve been here before,” said safety Nasir Adderley, referring to the Hens’ last-minute stop at Stony Brook. “We’re capable of pulling that off. We just weren’t able to get it done.”

Starting at its own 35 on the ensuing possession, Delaware did pick up a pair of first downs to reach the Towson 44 with just three second left. With the Hens set to try a hook-and-lateral, though, quarterback J.P. Caruso’s final pass was dropped.

Delaware linebacker Troy Reeder (9) and lineman Blaine Woodson (73) bring down Towson running back David Bryant. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Caruso completed just 6-of-15 passes for 43 yards for Delaware, which lost senior receiver Diante Cherry to a first-half dislocated shoulder. The Hens did run for 229 yards as Sussex Tech High grad Kani Kane posted his second-straight 100-yard game (22 carries-113 yards).

But probably Delaware’s biggest regret came earlier in the fourth quarter.

With the Hens leading 14-11, the Tigers dropped a punt that linebacker Colby Reeder recovered on the Towson 12 with 11:10 remaining.

On a third-and-seven from the nine, Caruso hit tight end Charles Scarff on a fade route. The ball appeared to hit the 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior in the hands but he couldn’t pull it in.

“I’ll look at the film,” said Rocco. “We had the right matchup, I think we had a good ball. I’m not saying he had both hands on it but I’m not sure he didn’t. That’s a play that we’ve got to make in a situation like that.”

Scarff caught a three-yard TD pass from Caruso in the second quarter for the Hens’ first points of the day.

This time, Delaware had to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Frank Raggo and only a 17-11 advantage.

“There’s no excuse for not putting up (more) points right there,” said Caruso. “That fumble was a gimmee. That was big. We could have ended it right there if we just got it into the end zone.

“The defense deserves for the offense to put up more points than we did today because they played really well..”

The second half had started much better for the Hens.

Holding a 7-3 lead, Delaware took the second-half’s opening kickoff and marched right down the field, covering 71 yards on just six running plays.
Kareem Williams (12 carries-80 yards) bolted 30 yards around the right side for a TD that seemed to put Delaware in relative control at 14-3.

“We came out strong in the second half,” said Kane, who carried the ball four straight times to start the third quarter for a gain of 32 yards. “After that, it kind of fell off.”

“I was very animated in the locker room (at halftime),” said Rocco. “It’s kind of an odd place to be sometimes where you do feel like one unit came ready to play and they performed at a high-enough level to win. And then, the other unit, really wasn’t and didn’t.

“They came out and responded on that first drive. But, again, it just dissipated.”

When the Tigers scored on a 39-yard pass play and added the two-point conversion late in the third quarter, Towson was still very much in the game, trailing only 14-11.

Rocco said again after the game that he thinks eight victories would put Delaware in the playoffs. But, to get to eight, the Hens will have to win at Maine, at home against Albany and then at Villanova.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” said Adderley. “But we’ve just got to stick together.”

“We’re going to stay together as a team,” said Caruso. “We’re going to come back, starting tomorrow and Tuesday and get better. We’re not going to let this hold us back.

“We’re not out of it. We need three wins. Now it just got a little bit harder.”

Extra points

Towson turned the ball over three times while the Hens didn’t turn it over at all. … Delaware had interceptions from safeties K.C. Hinton and Adderely. Adderley’s pickoff was a highlight-reel, one-handed, falling-backawards catch that was already shown on ESPN. … Nose tackle Bilal Nichols had a team-high nine tackles. … After his big game last week, receiver Jamie Jarmon had only one catch for five yards and two carries for 11 yards. … Rocco said he was optimistic that Cherry’s shoulder injury won’t keep him out of next week’s game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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