UD wants to honor football seniors with win

Fullback Owen Tyler will be one of 19 seniors honored Saturday. Delaware Sports Information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — People like to throw around the idea that teams like Delaware “have nothing to play for” at this point in the season.

But don’t trying telling that to Owen Tyler.

The Blue Hens’ senior fullback says every game matters to a football player.

“Just the love of competition, the love of the game,” said Tyler. “You never go out there not caring whether you win or lose — even though there’s nothing to play for as far as the playoffs or winning a conference championship.

“I play this game because I love it. The guys on the team play because they love it. … We have plenty of things to play for.”

Delaware’s lingering NCAA FCS playoff hopes officially ended on Saturday when the Hens (2-4 CAA, 4-6 overall) lost their third game in a row.

That means Saturday’s 1 p.m. CAA matchup with Stony Brook (2-4 CAA, 5-5 overall) will be the last home game for 19 UD seniors — some of who do have a season of eligibility remaining.

Getting one last victory in Delaware Stadium would mean a lot to the seniors.

For another thing, the Hens would love to avoid a losing season. They’d have to win their final two contests, including their season finale at Villanova in two weeks to accomplish that.

With Delaware having six losing seasons since 2001, they aren’t nearly as uncommon as they used to be in Newark. Still, Delaware has endured only 10 losing campaigns since 1950.

The Hens know they’re not that far from being in the playoff hunt again this fall. They’ve had a chance to win  the last three games, falling by 10, seven and four points.

In Saturday’s 21-17 loss to Albany, Delaware seemed to have its offense in gear when it scored 17 second-quarter points. Then the Hens were shut out in the second half.

“We haven’t played a complimentary game with all three phases of the game … we haven’t been able to put it together,” said linebacker Sal Mauro. “When it’s all put together, it does look really nice. That’s kind of the the thing that bothers me and bothers a bunch of other guys.

“We haven’t been able to put it all together.”

“It really comes down to execution,” said Tyler. “It’s tough to play a complete, 60-minute game. That’s the difference between us being 4-6 right now and us being 6-4. It’s finishing games, finishing drives.

“It’s hard. We’ve improved throughout the season, I think. We’ve got to just keep plugging along and get some ‘W’s.”

The bad news/good news for Delaware is that it has just six seniors in the starting lineup right now.

While that means the Hens should return a lot of starters, coach Danny Rocco said it’s left Delaware with too few veterans to lean on in crucial situations. He pointed out that, in last year’s Stony Brook game, the Hens sometimes had 10 seniors on the field on defense at once.

This year they have only two seniors starting on defense.

“In the toughest moments, the players need to know where to turn to or who to look to,” said Rocco. “The way our roster was last year, there were a lot of guys that had been through all those moments.

“And when you’re not playing well, it’s hard to lead,” he added later. “So you’ve got guys just fighting to hold their own out there because they’re just starting to learn how to master their positions — ‘Don’t look at me to lead, I’m just trying to hold down the fort right now.’”

Rocco still believes

Saturday’s game was a pretty tough one for receiver Thyrick Pitts.

The redshirt sophomore fumbled a ball at the one yard line in the third quarter with Delaware leading by three.

Rather than hiding, though, Rocco said Pitts was front and center during his post-game talk with the players in the locker room.

“I’m talking to the team and they’re all kind of dead silent,” said Rocco. “Thyrick was standing right in front of me, looking me right in the eye.

“I brought it to the team’s attention Sunday night. I said, ‘You guys aren’t running from anything. You guys are front and center.’ I love that. I respect that.

“So you ask me, where’s my optimism — there’s my optimism. These kids are owning it, we’re growing and, in the moment, we need to be better.”

Extra points

Will Knight’s average of 7.3 yards per carry is fourth-best nationally in FCS. … The Smyrna High grad leads the team with 722 yards on 99 carries, which is third on the Hens’ all-time rushing list for freshmen. No. 2 on the list, Thomas Jefferson with 890 yards in 2015, is within Knight’s reach. But the record-holder, Andrew Pierce with 1,655 yards in 2010, has a commanding hold on the top spot. …  Safety Kedrick Whitehead (Middletown) now has a team-leading 92 tackles — 43 more than second-place Noah Plack.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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