UD notebook: Perseverance pays off for Hens’ Robinson

Senior running back Andre Robinson reaches the end zone on a 10-yard run in the first over-time at URI on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — There were a lot of people celebrating after Delaware’s epic overtime win at Rhode Island on Saturday night.

But there was only one person that mattered the most to Andre Robinson.

The Blue Hens’ senior running back said his favorite moment was seeing his mom, Jennifer, following the contest.

“I haven’t seen her as happy as she was after the game on Saturday in a long time,” said Robinson. “And knowing, before in my career, how happy she would get when I would do well … that was always in the back of my mind to keep pushing and working hard through everything.
“She was ecstatic. She was almost in tears she was so happy.”

Robinson’s big night on Saturday was a long time in the making.

A central Pa. high school football star as a senior in 2014, Robinson’s 111-yard rushing performance on 20 carries against URI was the best of his collegiate career. And the touchdown he scored on a 10-yard run in the first overtime was his first TD since he was a sophomore at Penn State in 2017.

As No. 22-ranked Delaware (2-0) started preparing for Saturday’s 1 p.m. home showdown with top-ranked North Dakota State (2-0), Robinson’s big night was one of the things the Blue Hens felt good about after out-lasting URI, 44-36, in three overtimes last Saturday night.

“This is a really special young man,” Delaware coach Danny Rocco said about Robinson. “I made the comment the other night, kind of jokingly, I haven’t seen him run that well since high school. He kind of went back to that form.

“When he came out of high school, anybody that lived in this part of the country kind of knew who this kid was. He ran with that kind of passion and physicality and purpose Saturday night.

“I think the back story is an extraordinary story,” Rocco added. “When you’re dealing with young men, as we do as coaches, you’ve got to know their stories — because it really helps you understand who they are. Then it creates even more value to what you see them doing.”

Robinson got as many carries as he did against Rhode Island, in part, because starting running back DaJuan Lee suffered a knee injury in the second half and didn’t return on Saturday night. Rocco said the junior was expected to undergo an MRI later in the day on Monday.

Robinson said Lee was optimistic that his injury wasn’t too serious. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder was just glad he was able to come through against URI.

In one game, Robinson surpassed his production from all last season when he ran for 62 yards on 23 carries in nine games after transferring from Penn State.

“I’m still hurting,” Robinson said with a smile on Monday. “But there’s not many feelings like that — waking up on a Sunday morning after a tough game — obviously — that you win. That soreness, you like it almost.

“Going through things, you obviously don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” he said about his career. “So it’s hard to stay mentally positive about things, at times. But I just kept working hard and I persevered. It’s definitely paying off.”

Facing the best

The North Dakota State game will be the 14th time since 1979 that the Hens have taken on the No. 1 team in the country.

But it’s just the fourth time Delaware has played a top-ranked program in Newark. The last of those games came in 2017 when the Hens fell to CAA rival James Madison, 20-10.

Delaware is 3-10 all-time against No. 1’s.

Obviously, Saturday’s game will be a chance for the Hens to make a name for themselves. Of course, Delaware also had that chance last season when it went to North Dakota State for the first time and lost, 38-10.

Delaware trailed 28-0 less than 13 minutes into that matchup.

“Last year, when we went up there, we kind of didn’t know what we were going into,” said junior outside linebacker Sal Mauro. “And now that we know what to expect. … I think, when they come in here, we’re going to be ready for them.

“Last year they got off to a really fast start. They want to come out punching and swinging. If we can limit the fast start, that’s definitely going to help us out.”

This will be just the sixth time that the Bison have played a game on the East Coast since traveling to Army in 1932. They last played in the East in 2006, when they went to Georgia Southern.

Smyrna duo delivers

Smyrna High’s two former standouts, quarterback Nolan Henderson and running back Will Knight, may not have been in on a ton of plays at URI. But what they lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality.

Henderson ran the ball only four times, but three of them went for first downs on second-half third-down plays. Once, the speedy redshirt sophomore dove and stretched to the first-down marker for a nine-yard gain.

QB Nolan Henderson runs 16 yards on a third-and-15 to pick up a crucial first down for the Hens on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

On another, Henderson cut up field for a 16-yard gain on a third-and-15. Both of those plays kept drives alive that resulted in touchdowns.

“Nolan made two huge plays in the game,” said Rocco. “I like this roster. I think there’s a good blend of experienced, veteran players but there’s also a real hungry group of younger, talented players.

“We’re trying to change and upgrade the expectations of everybody in our program — so that regardless of what your role is, ‘What are you going to do to help us win?’ Everybody needs to make a contribution.”

Knight did help the Hens win when he caught a 24-yard pass from Pat Kehoe for the winning touchdown in the third OT. It came only the redshirt freshman’s fourth touch of the game.

“Nolan, that run on third down probably saved the game,” said Robinson. “Then Will, people don’t understand how hard it is to not really play much a whole game, and then come in in the third overtime and catch a touchdown pass. Those were huge sparkplugs from those guys that we really needed.”

Extra points

The Hens moved up one spot to No. 21 in Monday’s STATS FCS poll. … Kehoe’s five-touchdown pass game on Saturday night tied the school record also held by Scott Brunner (1979) and Tom DiMuzio ‘69). … Sophomore linebacker Johnny Buchanan posted a career-high 12 tackles on Saturday. … Rocco said that sophomore defensive tackle Dom Covatto played his best game on Saturday. “I see an awful lot of talent in this young man,” said Rocco. “If you’re watching the film, you want to know who that dude is because he’s a good-looking football player.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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