Visiting Blue Hens rally for 31-17 victory over Maine

UD tight end Brandon Whaley (81) is congratulated after catching a first-half TD pass. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

PORTLAND, Maine — In the first quarter, it looked like Delaware’s playoff chances were hanging by a thread.

Spotting Maine a quick 10-point lead, the Blue Hens looked they were in for a rough afternoon.

But Delaware got its act together, scored 31 points over the final three quarters and came back home with a 31-17 Colonial Athletic Association football victory over the Black Bears on Saturday afternoon.

In clinching the program’s first winning season since 2013, the Hens (4-2 CAA, 6-3 overall) believe two more victories will also put them in line for their first NCAA Division I FCS playoff berth since 2010.

None of that seemed very likely, though, when Delaware trailed Maine (3-4, 4-4) 10-0 and were sputtering on offense.

“Today we did a great job of staying together as a team,” said senior nose tackle Bilal Nichols. “Coach (Danny) Rocco always says our strength is in the unity of this group. We really believe that. Whenever times get rough we count on each other. We never give up.

The Hens’ Joe Walker, who played a few different roles on Saturday, runs for some yards against Maine.

“This team is so resilient and that’s what I’m most proud of. We come each day and work hard and count on each other. We played our best when it mattered the most today. When we really needed stops, we got them. When we really needed to control the line of scrimmage, we did. When we needed to get to the QB, we did.”

The contest was tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter when Maine punt returner Micah Wright was stripped of the ball on a hit by Delaware safety Nasir Adderley.

Blue Hens freshman Colby Reeder scooped up the ball at the Maine four yard-line and lunged into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Hens a 24-17 lead with 13:22 remaining.

On the next Maine drive, the Delaware defense held the Bears to just four yards.

Then, on the ensuing drive, the Hens went 58 yards on 13 plays. The drive, which took nearly eight minutes off the clock, was capped by quarterback J.P. Caruso’s one-yard rushing touchdown run with 4:07 left in the game to seal the victory.

“I thought our ability to run the ball and get some first downs bleeding the clock down, was as significant as anything,” said Rocco. “We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win. I’m certainly excited to secure a winning season and to get a win in November.”

Delaware had lost six of its last eight games to Maine, including four in a row. The Bears also came into the game with a three-game winning streak this season.

Delaware safety Nasir Adderley comes up to make a tackle in Saturday’s game.

The Hens were playing without standout receiver Jamie Jarmon, who was sidelined with an undisclosed injury, In his place, Delaware made more use of former starting quarter Joe Walker.

Walker finished with 165 all-purpose yards, including a 56-yard reception in the second quarter that set up the Hens’ first touchdown. The junior also completed a 42-yard pass and ran the ball nine times for 55 yards.

“Today felt great being a guy who made plays and gave a spark when we needed,” sai Walker. “I always knew I could catch the ball, I just never played wide receiver. Today was the first time playing it. I was just trying to play my role and do as much as I could.

“We planned to have Jamie in the game with me, we didn’t know until yesterday that he wasn’t going to play. I think today was about building a routine so that when we both play teams don’t know what we’re going to do.”

“Joe did a great job,” said Rocco. “He’s going to give us some energy here and some explosive production as we continue. Hopefully, we’ll have Jamie back next week because that will give us a few more options.”

Tight end Brandon Whaley caught his first career touchdown pass at 5:42 of the second quarter while safety Tim Poindexter made his first career interception in the third quarter. Linebacker Troy Reeder made 17 tackles in the victory and also blocked a punt.

Junior Kani Kane (Sussex Tech) also for 99 yards and his seventh rushing touchdown of the season.

The Hens return home next Saturday, hosting Albany for Senior Day at 3:30 p.m.

“We’re excited to go home this week and continue our quest this season,” said Rocco. “We’re finding ways to remain relevant. Today was a great team win. The offense did things when they had to, and the defense made stops when they had to. Ultimately the special teams and kicking game made a lot of big plays.”

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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