UD football notebook: ‘It’s not over’ — Playoffs still Blue Hens’ goal

QB Nolan Henderson scrambles to get off a pass in Saturday’s 31-24 loss to Towson. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — More than two months into the season, the Blue Hens still have something of an identity crisis.

Delaware still thinks it has a good football team but its 4-5 record says it’s only mediocre.

But until it is written in stone, the Hens say they’re going to keep playing like they’re a potential NCAA FCS Division I playoff team.

“I think we have a young team but a very talented team,” said junior receiver Thyrick Pitts. “We’ve got to look at it one game at a time but, if we win out, the way it’s shaping up and the way the standings look. … I think we still have a shot.

“It’s not over. I don’t think anybody on this team’s mentality is like, ‘the season’s over.’”

With Delaware (2-3 CAA, 4-5 overall) hosting Albany (3-2 CAA, 5-4 overall) on Saturday at 1 p.m., most of the Colonial Athletic Association is in the same boat as the Hens.

After James Madison (8-1) and Villanova (6-3) — which has lost three in a row — the next eight teams in the league have either five or four overall victories. And, of course, many of them will be playing either over the last three weeks of the regular season.

Not surprisingly, Delaware coach Danny Rocco doesn’t think anything has changed just because the Hens have lost two games in a row.

Receiver Thyrick Pitts pulls in a long pass during Saturday’s game at Towson. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“You’ve always heard me say, ‘Wait until the end of the season and judge the season then,’” Rocco said on Monday. “‘Never judge the season too early.’

“There will be a seven-win CAA team in the playoffs — I just don’t know if there will be enough teams getting to eight. It’s tough sledding.

“We’ve talked all year about competitive greatness — basically it’s being at your best when your best is required. I told our team last night, our best is required in this moment. We’re certainly going to play this game and treat this game like it’s as important as any game we’ve ever played around here.

“We can’t wait to get back out there to have a chance to compete and a chance to win a football game.”

Delaware clearly had chances to win each of its last two games. The Hens were tied with Towson, 24-24, in the fourth quarter before losing, 31-24.

The week before, they trailed Richmond just 28-25 in the third quarter before falling, 35-25.

Many times, the Hens seem to play a lot better in the second half of games. They’ve been out-scored 139-69 in the first half but out-scored their opponents, 142-119, after halftime.

Hen linebacker Tim Poindexter (2) celebrates one his two forced fumbles vs. Towson. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Junior linebacker Tim Poindexter said, defensively, he thinks it’s just a matter of being more consistent.

“I could go on and on about the little things that could be done to get better,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, when it’s 60 minutes, we have to play 60 minutes. Thirty minutes will sometimes win us a game but we shouldn’t have to bring it to that.

“I feel like consistency is what we need to focus on right now. Once we do that, we’ll be good, if not even better.”

Upon further review-I

Rocco said that quarterback Nolan Henderson’s remarkable scramble on Delaware’s last offensive snap Saturday was on a broken play.
It came with the Hens facing a fourth-and-three from the Towson 15 with about a minute and a half remaining.

According to Rocco, 10 players understood that it was supposed to be a pass play. But the 11th player — who thought it was a run — was the primary receiver.

Henderson’s extended scramble took him from one side of the field to the other and all the way back to the 45 before he almost sprinted for the first down.

Unfortunately, the Smyrna High grad slid — thinking he was past the first-down marker — and ended up no more than a yard short.

“It’s an amazing run,” said Rocco. “He’s an amazing competitor. I honestly think, that for as far as he ran, how many yards he ran east, west, backwards, etc. …. when he got to the first stick, I think he thought he had a first down so everything after that was gravy.

“Obviously, if he would have seen that second stick there for the yard to make, he had plenty of room to dive left or drive right and make the first down. It is what it is. I’m really looking forward to moving forward with Nolan this week — having a full game under his belt in a pretty solid performance.”

Henderson was playing in his first game after missing two and a half games with a concussion.

“He ran like 50 yards for one yard, which I thought was pretty crazy,” said Pitts. “He almost made magic happen so I can’t fault him. He felt pretty bad after the game but I just told him, ‘Don’t hang your head, we wouldn’t be here without you.’”

Upon further review-II

The other late-game play that left some people scratching their heads set up Towson’s winning touchdown.

The Tigers were facing a third-and-15 at the Delaware 16 when QB Tom Flacco threw up a pass along the sidelines in the end zone.

Safety Kedrick Whitehead, who was covering on the play, did make contact with the receiver. But replays also showed that the receiver had almost no chance of catching the ball inbounds.

Kedrick was called for pass interference, giving the Tigers the ball at the two instead of being forced to kick a field goal. They scored on the next play to take a 31-24 lead with 4:54 remaining.

That call looked especially big when Delaware reached field-goal territory on its ensuing drive.

What Rocco didn’t like about the call was that the Hens’ defense had forced Towson into a low-percentage pass.

“The ball is out of bounds, it’s a desperation throw, it kind of made no sense,” he said. “If that was the primary receiver … and he fires it and they’re chest on chest, I can understand why maybe the flag came out. But this was last resort, throwing as you’re getting hit, throwing it up grabs, high and out of bounds. … and they get bailed out with a flag.

“It happens, it’s disappointing.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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