DOVER, Del. -- Nick Elko knew the play would be wide open and go for big yardage, but he didn't know how wide or how big.
Elko found out quickly, on Delaware State's first offensive possession of the game, and the simple play sparked the Hornets to a 35-27 victory over Hampton in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game on Saturday at Alumni Stadium.
In fact, Elko liked it so much the senior quarterback did it again later in the game. Elko hooked up with wide receiver Travis Tarpley on two long touchdown passes on the same play, a short post pattern.
Elko hit Tarpley in stride both times and the senior receiver did the rest, jetting past the Hampton defense for a 48-yard touchdown to give Delaware State a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and then an 83-yarder that gave the Hornets a 28-19 lead in the fourth quarter.
The victory ensures Delaware State (6-4, 5-2) its first winning season since 2007, the last time the Hornets won the MEAC championship.
"We knew the middle would be open and we did a few things to stretch out the defense and set it up," Elko said. "As soon as I moved up (to the line of scrimmage), I knew that we had it.
"And when Travis got his hands on the ball and took off, I knew nobody was going to catch him. Those were two big plays and we needed both of them."
Delaware State also got some big plays on defense, recovering a fumble to set up Tarpley's first touchdown, and recovering another when the Pirates (2-7, 2-5) had the ball on the Delaware State one-yard line.
"That's sort of been the story of our season; we make mistakes at the worst possible times," Hampton linebacker Matthew Davis said. "We play well most of the time and do some good things, but then we make mistakes that kill us.
"If we could eliminate those mistakes, we'd be right in these games we've lost."
One of those mistakes led to Delaware State's first touchdown, on Hampton's first offensive play of the game.
Hornets' linebacker Olusegun Ayanbiola stripped the ball from wide receiver Andre Griffin and defensive back Nick Williams recovered for Delaware State on the Hornets' 39.
That led to Elko's first touchdown pass to Tarpley.
Hampton had a chance to score a couple of touchdowns as it drove inside the Delaware State 10-yard-line twice, but both times had to settle for field goals by Taurean Durham, from 22 and 29 yards.
Another Hampton fumble led to another Delaware State touchdown, on a two-yard run by Nagee Jackson.
Hampton finally scored a touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Travis Champion to Tikeem Platt, but Jackson scored on another two-yard run and the Hornets led, 21-12, with 1:24 left in the third quarter.
"It was important that we answered them after they scored," Jackson said. "We made the plays we had to make and we made them when we had to make them, and that's been a mark of this team all season. And we really needed that today."
Hampton made it interesting in the fourth quarter, when wide receiver Jarvaris Brown got open down the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown reception with 13:13 left to pull the Pirates to within 21-19.
But it didn't stay that way for long. Delaware State took over on its 17, and on the first play from scrimmage, Tarpley and Elko hooked up on the same play that got them their first touchdown.
"We didn't stop them when we had to stop them and that was the difference in the game," Hampton linebacker Lydell Gibson said. "But we never gave up and that says a lot for the future of this program.
"It's been a frustrating season in a lot of ways, but we're establishing something good here that will pay off in the future."
NOTES: Hampton running back Jeremiah Schwartz, the leading rusher in the MEAC, carried the ball 24 times for 136 yards. He has 930 yards for the season. ... Delaware State coach Kermit Blount, in his second season with the Hornets, earned his 100th career coaching victory. He was 91-87-3 before coming to Dover. ... Hampton leads the overall series 24-14, including five of the last eight. ... Hampton freshman quarterback Brian Swain made his second career start. He's the fourth quarterback to throw at least 20 passes this season for the Pirates.