Hens upset JMU, move to No. 25 in FCS
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 23:09
Nobody, not even head coach Dave Brock, knew what to expect during the Delaware football team’s CAA opener against No. 14 James Madison Saturday night. The Hens’ three wins had come against opponents with a combined 4-10 record, not at all what one could call a challenging schedule.
But after two second-half touchdown receptions from Delaware junior tight end Nick Boyle erased an early 13-point deficit, the Hens emerged with a 29-22 victory in front of 18,405 fans at Delaware Stadium. The team is now 4-1 on the season and is ranked No. 25 is this week’s Federal Championship Subdivision coaches poll.
“For them to come back and grind like they did, work and believe, that’s what a winning football team does,” Brock said.
As elated as Brock appeared at the end of the game, the first half began in disastrous fashion for Delaware.
On the team’s first play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Trent Hurley threw an interception to JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson while trying to avoid a sack. The Dukes took over at Delaware’s 33-yard line but were held to a field goal after Hens junior linebacker Kennedy Ogbonna stuffed JMU tailback Dae’Quan Scott on a third-and-1.
JMU pushed its lead to 6-0 on a seven play, 70-yard first-quarter drive that stalled on the Delaware 14-yard line, leading to another field-goal from kicker Cameron Starke. The Hens punted on their next drive and surrendered their first touchdown of the game on a 37-yard completion from JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong to tight end Deane Cheatham, stretching the lead to 13-0.
Hurley powered the Hens’ first sustained drive of the game to open the second quarter. The junior signal-caller completed five of seven passes to get the ball down to the Dukes’ 13-yard line. However, a third-down holding call forced Brock to call on senior kicker Sean Baner, who shanked a 39-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Hurley said the Hens’ early defensive stops played a crucial role in allowing the team to stay competitive while the offense struggled to finish drives early on.
“It shows the character of the team,” Hurley said. “Our defense played their butts off. They kept us in the game when I was struggling.”
After forcing JMU three-and-out, Hurley led the Hens down the field once again, this time on a seven play, 71-yard drive that culminated with senior running back Andrew Pierce finding his way into the endzone from 2 yards out on a counter.
But just as quickly as the momentum swung into Delaware’s favor, former Newark High School star Taylor Reynolds intercepted a misguided pass from Hurley in Delaware’s end zone on the Hens’ next drive. Birdsong led the Dukes downfield to score another touchdown just six seconds before halftime, leaving the Hens facing a 19-7 deficit.
Despite the score, Brock said his team didn’t panic in the locker room at halftime.
“We were playing really good defense, except or four or five plays,” Brock said. “I know you can’t erase them, but you have to look at the body of work as you’re thinking about how you’re going to play the game. And I felt like we had momentum, and I felt like we were just a little bit off offensively.”
On the team’s second drive of the half, Hurley connected with senior tight end Malcolm Bush on a 1-yard touchdown pass set up when senior wide receiver Rob Jones returned a punt to the JMU 15-yard line.
Junior wide receiver Andrew Opoku blocked a JMU punt on the Dukes’ next possession, leading to an 8-yard touchdown to Boyle with 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Hens a 22-19 lead. JMU promptly responded with a field goal to tie the contest.
But the Hurley to Boyle connection proved to be too much for the Dukes to handle.
On Delaware’s next drive, a 41-yard run by Hurley through the middle of JMU’s defense set the Hens up with a first-and-10 from the Dukes’ 21-yard line. Two plays later, Hurley hit Boyle for an 18-yard reception down to the 1-yard line. After two failed attempts to get into the end zone, Hurley channeled his inner Tebow, jump-passing a ball over the middle of JMU’s defensive line to Boyle to give Delaware a 29-22 lead, which proved to be the the final score of the game.
After the game, Boyle said increasing the offensive tempo in the second-half helped the team increase its offensive production.
“We went back to the drawing board at halftime,” Boyle said. “Our coaches did a good job fixing and adjusting whatever we needed. We came back out in the second half and did a great job.”
An interception from junior linebacker Patrick Callaway with just under two minutes to play put the game away for Delaware.
Hurley said the experience of overcoming a deficit to win a game will prove invaluable for the Hens later during the season.
“When you can come from behind and comeback and win, it shows a bunch of character of the team,” Hurley said. “We’re not willing to give up. We’re going to fight until the last whistle blows.”
Next week, the Hens will travel to No. 23 Maine in hopes of remaining undefeated in conference play. However, they’ll have to do so without junior defensive end Laith Wallschleger, who Brock said is likely out for the season with a leg injury suffered in Saturday’s win.