Jon Marks, NCAA.com
NEWARK, Del. — This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering Delaware came in No. 1 in the FCS, surrendering just 12.3 points a game, while fellow Colonial Athletic Association rival New Hampshire was nearly as stingy, allowing a fifth-best 16.5.
So a shootout on Friday night, especially playing under near arctic conditions, with Vice President Joe Biden in the house, wasn’t the prescription on this night. Still, no one thought at one point in the third quarter there would’ve been more punts between the teams (11) than points on the board (six).
That’s just about the point when Delaware’s offense finally kicked into gear, driving 59 yards for a touchdown that broke the tie, followed by an 87-yard march that sent the Blue Hens on their way to the FCS semifinals with a convincing 16-3 win.
The Blue Hens (11-2) will play host next weekend to Georgia Southern, which defeated Wofford, 23-20, on Saturday.
Pat Devlin snapped out of a lethargic start to pick apart the Wildcats with a short passing game, and a relentless defense held the Wildcats to 237 yards. And now, the Hens are back in the FCS semifinals for the first time since losing to Appalachian State in the 2007 title game.
And while there certainly were some anxious moments, once the Hens began to assert themselves there was little New Hampshire could do.
“Our defense played lights out and we really managed the moment until we settled ourselves down,” Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler said. “At halftime, considering how good UNH is and how poorly we were playing, I thought it was a big deal to be tied [3-3].
“I had all the confidence in the world then. Pat was in the flow and I felt confident we’d be fine.”
They were. Devlin started off throwing for just 15 yards in the first quarter, but really came on, hitting 11 of 12 during one stretch, to wind up 27-for-38 for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
“I just didn’t come out as fast as I needed to,” Devlin said. “It was a matter of timing on my part and we fixed it. I told the guys ‘That [first] quarter’s on me.’ We’ll get it done.”
And they did. Devlin hooked up with Nihja White on a 24-yard strike that broke the tie midway through the third quarter, and then completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Mark Schenauer to give Delaware some breathing room with 13:04 left.
“We have confidence with Pat out there,” said White, who caught eight balls for 94 yards. “He sees everyone, so we’re never worried if we get off to a slow start.
“We knew if we could hold them on defense we’d get it together.”
Still, it took a while, as New Hampshire’s rugged defense — which came in with 33 sacks and 34 forced turnovers — made Delaware work for all it could get. Eventually, though. Devlin & Co. spread the field with no-back and one-back formations, then surgically picked apart New Hampshire.
“I really thought Delaware got stronger as the game went on,” New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell said. “It was smart what they did offensively.
“They spread us out and Devlin went to the short passing game. I was pleased with the pressure we were able to get on Devlin, but they attacked us on the perimeter pretty well. The biggest thing they did was keep us off balance. And except for the drive where we got our field goal, our offense was way out of sync.”
Credit that to the Blue Hens’ D, which had to go virtually the distance without one of its best players, defensive end Matt Marcorelle, who strained a calf muscle during warm-ups. Having to adjust on the fly, it took a while for the defense to warm-up — so to speak, on a 31-degree night — to the challenge.
About the only disappointing thing might’ve been that only 8,770 — the lowest attendance here since 1968 — came out to see it. Undoubtedly, the cold had something to do with it, although Keeler and Devlin say it hardly fazed them.
“It was wonderful out there,” Devlin said, laughing. “I think it’s the first time there was no wind in Newark.”
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