BY DANIEL STEENKAMER
Managing Sports Editor
Delaware football celebrated Homecoming on Saturday in winning fashion, disposing of North Carolina A&T State University 21-6, but the Blue Hens were lacking in style points. Despite Delaware’s status as a three-touchdown favorite versus the one-win Aggies, the day’s persistent rain for much of the game created sloppy conditions met with equally sloppy play.
The Blue Hens, who entered the game ranked eighth nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), learned quickly that passing the football would prove difficult in the inclement weather. It was no matter on Delaware’s opening drive, which began with six straight rushes by star senior running back Marcus Yarns and concluded by way of fellow tailback Kyron Cumby’s two carries, the second of which was a zig-zagging, 25-yard touchdown run.
Delaware’s early commitment to the run game headlines this week’s installment of The Review’s 3 & Out series.
Rain leads to the run–and a turning-point giveaway
“Today was by far the worst that we’ve had out of the three games as far as how it affected us,” Delaware Head Football Coach Ryan Carty said postgame about the Hens’ latest rainy home outing. “…I think early on, we kinda realized how bad it was, when we threw that interception early off of Chandler [Harvin’s] chest. The ball was wet and it was uncatchable almost.”
The Ryan O’Connor interception referenced by Carty came with just over five-and-a-half minutes to play in the first quarter and ended Delaware’s second possession as a mere one-play drive. North Carolina A&T’s Avarion Cole came up with the pick on the breakup of the pass intended for Harvin by Aggies defensive back Karon Prunty, and Cole’s ensuing celebration, planting the football at midfield triumphantly, set NC A&T back with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
After the personal foul, the Aggies failed to convert their plus field position into points. NC A&T fell victim to a rainy-day special with a turnover occurring on true freshman quarterback Kevin White’s run and fumble just before the Delaware goal line. The Aggie fumble out of the end zone caused a touchback and Blue Hen possession once more with the Delaware lead held at 7-0, which stood at the end of the first quarter.
A&T stays within arm’s reach
A theme of the game was Delaware’s failure to capitalize on opportunities to put an underdog North Carolina A&T squad out of reach for good. The Blue Hens led only 14-3 at halftime despite Yarns’ block of an A&T punt that was recovered by Delaware’s Kaelin Costello, the junior running back and special teams regular who returned the rock to the Aggies’ 3-yard line.
Delaware had just 15 seconds remaining in the first half with its offense on the field following the blocked punt. Making matters worse, and making the clock a true time crunch despite the instant first-and-goal enjoyed by the Hens, was Delaware’s lack of timeouts, all of which were used on the Blue Hens’ previous series. The timeout-burning drive’s threat ended with graduate kicker Alex Schmoke’s 34-yard field goal attempt, which was wide of the uprights.
Delaware could not make up for that missed chance in its 15-second, 3-yards-and-goal-to-go situation. The Blue Hens were able to run two plays, the first an incomplete pass out of bounds in the area of sophomore wide receiver JoJo Bermudez and the second an off-schedule play with a dropped shotgun snap limiting Cumby’s run to a two-yard gain down to the one as time expired in the half.
In the second half, Delaware protected its 11-point advantage and extended it to a 21-3 lead when O’Connor hit graduate receiver Jourdan Townsend with a two-yard touchdown toss. The scoring drive was set up by Blue Hens defensive lineman Keyshawn Hunter’s forced fumble and recovery on Aggies running back Kenji Christian’s one-yard run with 13:58 in the third.
A frightening turn in the game came when Hunter, a junior, was injured and had to be stretchered into an ambulance later in the half, casting a hush of concern over Delaware Stadium. The Hens went into a full-team huddle after Hunter’s exit and were able to finish the game in the face of worry for their teammate.
With what information he had, Carty provided a positive update on Hunter’s status to begin the postgame press conference.
“When Keyshawn left the field, he was responsive and upbeat,” Carty said. “He’s right now with his parents in the hospital and seems to be doing well.”
Injury report lengthening with road swing next
While Hunter’s health beyond football is the foremost concern, Delaware is seeing injuries pile up of late. Harvard grad transfer wide receiver Kym Wimberly was unavailable on Saturday with an injury and position mate Harvin was upended awkwardly on the interception on which he was targeted. Further still, the Blue Hens did not turn to Yarns on offense nearly as often in the second half, with Carty saying that Yarns “got hurt a little bit” on his blocked punt when NC A&T punter Caleb Brickhouse hit Yarns on the play.
Yarns still did his damage prior to getting nicked up, earning 126 yards on 15 carries to go with Cumby’s busy day of 144 yards on 20 rushes. The running game seized the day with O’Connor’s game limited through the air. Delaware’s starting quarterback concluded with 57 passing yards on 8-of-21 passing.
With the few air yards to go around, the Blue Hens’ receiving box score was nothing special on the afternoon, though sophomore tight end Elijah Sessoms got involved with two receptions for 17 yards, the bulk of which came on a 16-yard catch. Bermudez led the receivers in blue and gold with three catches for 28 yards.
With the victory in which it held North Carolina A&T to 196 yards of total offense, Delaware moved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) Football play. The Blue Hens stand as the last CAA team with an undefeated league mark, but preserving that distinction will be a challenge. Awaiting Delaware in November are two teams with just one conference loss each, Elon University and Villanova University – both come to Newark next month. The Elon and Villanova games sandwich a road contest at Campbell University, which boasts the CAA’s No. 2 scoring offense at 37.8 points per game through the tilts of Oct. 14.
In the meantime, with the Hens’ four-game homestand in the rear view, Delaware gets back on the road to close October. Its Oct. 21 visit to Hampton University and Oct. 28 trip to Towson University will be aired live on 91.3 FM WVUD and wvud.org.
Delaware has designs on its CAA No. 5 scoring defense traveling well in these two excursions out of state, the Blue Hens’ first away matchups since their shellacking suffered at Penn State on Sep. 9. The Delaware defense is a unit led in the middle by grad linebacker Jackson Taylor, the West Chester transfer who earned CAA Defensive Player of the Week, it was announced Monday. Taylor had 15 total tackles, including four for loss, on Saturday.
“Just seeing the open space,” Taylor said Monday about keys to getting takedowns in the backfield. “Whenever you see that open space, sometimes it’s kinda like when we watch film, some guys get caught in the ‘deer in headlights.’ It’s like, ‘Oh my God, it’s right there.’”
To that end, Taylor said, being decisive when presented with a crease is important.
“Just not hesitating. Sometimes, you just gotta take that risk and shoot the gap.”