When Delaware sophomore defensive back Justis Henley jumped the route of Rhode Island tight end Caleb Warren and intercepted Vito Priore’s 4th-and-goal pass in the corner of the end zone last Saturday night, it not only clinched a back-and-forth, 44-36 triple-overtime triumph for the Fightin’ Blue Hens that would move them to 1-0 in Colonial Athletic Association play. It also secured the Delaware football program’s 700th all-time win, moving UD into an exclusive class of seven FCS schools to reach the milestone.
The Blue Hens host the only other non-Ivy League member in that 700-win club when they face off with No. 1 North Dakota State Saturday at Delaware Stadium, and thus the 1 p.m. (ET) kickoff constitutes the first-ever FCS non-conference contest between programs with 700 wins.
While that’s all well and good for the record books, No. 18 Delaware recognizes that it is now tasked with moving on from the emotions of a victorious, but physically draining, road trip.
“The emotions were high. It was a sense of joy and relief to be able to pull out that game in triple-overtime,” Blue Hens redshirt senior starting quarterback Pat Kehoe reflected. “Once we’re done watching the film on Sunday, we redirect our focus to our next opponent. We’re just focusing on ourselves and focusing on our game plan to get ready to play a great game on Saturday.”
Hens head coach Danny Rocco has said throughout the week that a principal part of that game plan is getting out to a fast start against NDSU, which is making its easternmost trip for a regular-season game since traveling to Georgia Southern in 2006. The Bison jumped all over Delaware in the first quarter of last season’s matchup at the Fargodome, closing the opening period with a 28-0 lead. Kehoe’s first pass of the day was taken the other way on a Jabril Cox pick-six and “The Herd” never looked back, cruising to a statement 38-10 win.
Delaware did not score a first-quarter touchdown in the season opener versus Delaware State and produced a scoreless first half at Rhode Island, but the Blue Hen offense seeks to ride the momentum of its second-half and overtime eruption at URI into a strong start against NDSU, the defending FCS champions and winners of seven of the last eight national titles.
Kehoe overcame a trio of first-half interceptions and went on to reward his Blue Hen defense for limiting Rhody to 13 points at the half despite being set up in or near the UD red zone following two of those picks. The Madison, Connecticut native was resurgent, piling up five touchdowns across the second half and three overtime periods to tie a school record for touchdown passes in a game. The mark was first set by Tom DiMuzio in 1969 and last matched by Scott Brunner in 1979.
Kehoe also nabbed a pass from wideout Thyrick Pitts on a successful “Philly Special” two-point conversion that put Delaware ahead 22-19 with 1:19 in the fourth quarter. The 3-point lead would prove handy when the Rams booted a 44-yard field goal to tie the game at 22 apiece with 19 seconds remaining in regulation.
“That was fun. We’ve practiced it since training camp; it was fun to put it on in a game and have it work,” Kehoe said with a smile of his chance to do his best Nick Foles pass-catching impression.
The resilience shown by Delaware in its comeback at Rhode Island, embodied in part by Kehoe’s drastic turnaround from the first half to the second half, will be a prerequisite in its effort to hang with NDSU. During Monday’s CAA coaches teleconference, Rocco emphasized NDSU’s stellar and sustained execution as a key source of its dominant run.
“The names change, the rosters change, but the execution is the thing I see that remains the most constant,” he observed, calling it “precision-like” and describing it as being “at a high level on a consistent basis.”
One thing Delaware has going for it Saturday that it lacked against the Bison in 2018 is home field, though a sizeable contingent of Bison fans is expected to migrate east. Nonetheless, the heavily pro-Blue Hens crowd will be much more hospitable when the Hens are on offense compared to the din with which UD was met at the Fargodome a season ago.
“It’ll feel good to be in front of our home crowd, in a place that’s near and dear and familiar to us,” Kehoe noted. “We’ll just play to our advantage with that and give the energy to the crowd to get into the game.”