Blue Hens rally to beat the weather, New Hampshire after early deficit 29-25

As the dismal weather got worse Saturday night at Delaware Stadium, the Blue Hens got better.

That allowed Delaware to take in a pretty sight when time expired, with the scoreboard lights gleaming with a 29-25 victory over New Hampshire.

No. 19-ranked Delaware thereby established itself as a contender for the Coastal Athletic Association title and NCAA FCS playoffs by rallying to down the 11th-ranked Wildcats.

Delaware coach Ryan Carty, the former UD quarterback who began his coaching career at UNH from 2007-17, termed it "a culture win" for the Blue Hens with long-lasting benefits.

"I'm excited for today, for our kids," he said, "and excited for the future of this football program."

New Hampshire went up 18-0 early, signaling that the windy, wet night may be equally bleak for the Blue Hens.

Instead, they got their offense rolling and came up with key fourth-quarter, fourth-down stops when New Hampshire reached the UD 5- and 15-year lines. Cornerback Khalil Dawsey also intercepted a pass at midfield for Delaware in the final period.

"That's from our core values, finishing every play, finishing every drive," said Delaware linebacker Jackson Taylor, who had 11 tackles. "Those fourth-down plays, that’s like a big X play for us. We gotta put our foot in the ground  and grind that one out and we were able to do it."

Delaware punter Ryan Kost leaped to snare a high snap and get off a kick to avoid potential disaster in the final minute after the Hens' last possession.

Ryan O'Connor completed 24 of 37 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns despite the difficult conditions.

Marcus Yarns gained 105 yards on 16 carries, his third 100-plus ground effort.

Delaware outgained UNH 501-443 in total yards.

"We were down 18-0, right?" Carty said. "That’s just a testament to how much we believe in each other."

Yarns gives Hens lead

With a wind-blown rain as the backdrop, Delaware gained the momentum and the lead.

Yarns ran 30 yards for a touchdown with 3:33 to go in the third period as the Blue Hens moved ahead of New Hampshire 29-25.

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First UD lead short-lived

Delaware's first lead of the game didn't last long. And the Blue Hens' chance to regain it was foiled by a fumble.

The Blue Hens finally had some positive moments at blustery Delaware Stadium, taking their first lead 22-18 with 13:44 left in the third quarter.

O'Connor's 48-yard pass to Jourdan Townsend set up O'Connor's 8-yard TD pass to Chandler Harvin.

But Dylan Laube's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown allowed New Hampshire to go back up 25-22.

Delaware then marched downfield and Josh Youngblood's 22-yard run was called a touchdown. But replays showed a fumble at the 1-yard line, with the ball going out of the end zone for a touchback giving UNH possession.

Blue Hens rally

Delaware pulled within 18-15 with 1:56 left in the first half as Yarns turned a short pass from O'Connor into a 24-yard touchdown. Kyron Cumby added a 2-point run.

That was the score going into halftime as Delaware's Alex Schmoke was wide right on a 50-yard field-goal try with the wind at his back as time expired.

O'Connor, under heavy pressure, had earlier thrown a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jourdan Townsend with 10:41 to go in the second quarter. Schmoke's PAT made it 18-7.

UNH in command early

New Hampshire had quickly exerted its authority, jumping ahead 18-0 early in the second quarter. Max Brosmer's 2-yard TD pass to tight end for a touchdown was the latest indignity for the Hens.

Before that, the Wildcats blocked a Delaware punt that went out of the end zone for a safety, added Nick Mazzie's 23-yard field goal and got Brosmer's 16-yard TD pass to Logan Tomlinson to jump ahead 12-0 in the first quarter.

It could have been worse for Delaware, but cornerback Dawsey forced a fumble after a UNH catch that teammate Nic Ware recovered in the end zone. The punt was blocked on the subsequent UD possession.

"They were who they were on tape," Carty said. "They’re a good football team. They stopped us once or twice going into the wind to start the game. They hit a couple big plays early and kind of changed the momentum on us."

Brosmer was 24-for-38 passing for 303 yards and two touchdowns for UNH.

Delaware punter Ryan Kost gets his pregame work in with rain falling and the wind blowing at Delaware Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.
Delaware punter Ryan Kost gets his pregame work in with rain falling and the wind blowing at Delaware Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.

Rain, wind rule

Newark was spared during much of the afternoon Saturday, with little rain and some blustery wind.

The tropical cyclone spinning toward the Mid-Atlantic states may swirl up a bit more mayhem after Delaware and New Hampshire begin their 6 p.m. football encounter at Delaware Stadium.

Forecasts do call for rain in the early evening with gusts in the 20 mph range. How that affects the Blue Hens and Wildcats remains to be seen and will be an interesting and potentially decisive factor in their Coastal Athletic Association showdown between Top 25 teams.

Both value and depend on their passing games, especially periodic shots downfield. New Hampshire's 103 passes through three games ranks sixth in the CAA. Delaware ranks ninth having thrown 90. UNH is second with 281.3 air yards per game and Delaware is fifth with 231.7.

As for running the football, which may be more appealing if the conditions dictate, UNH has been a bit better. The Wildcats, who have run the ball less than any other CAA team, have gained 4.6 yards per carry and 135 per game to the Blue Hens' 4.0 and 124.3. Delaware did play one of the nation's FBS teams, however, in Penn State, losing 63-7 and certainly skewing its stats.

The kicking games are certain to be influenced by the wind. Tubby Raymond Field runs north to south, and depending on wind direction -- it was heavy and blowing mostly south 90 minutes before kickoff -- field position and correctly choosing when and where to punt and try field goals could also determine in the outcome.

Eye on the future

Delaware’s last football game in September will play a key factor in whether or not the Blue Hens are still playing Thanksgiving weekend in the postseason.

The CAA has sent at least five teams to the FCS playoffs on five occasions, including last year [the league record is six in 2018].

If five go this year, that would be one-third of what is now a 15-team league.

And while schools play just eight of their league rivals, which can make levels of superiority more difficult to ascertain, there’s no doubt Saturday's Delaware-New Hampshire showdown will figure.

No. 11 New Hampshire and No. 19 Delaware are two of five CAA teams in the national FCS media poll Top 25.

The others are No. 5 Villanova, No. 17 Rhode Island and No. 25 Villanova. Campbell and Albany are among those also receiving votes. Of those teams, Villanova is the only one Delaware plays besides UNH, which enhances the importance of Saturday evening’s outcome.

So Delaware may not have as difficult a path to making the 24-team FCS bracket as others. But it is still too early to be sure.

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“I think the conference does seem to be pretty darn explosive,” Delaware coach Carty said. “There's been some games I've had a chance to watch, whether it be a Friday night or that one time we played on Thursday. I've been impressed with a lot of the talent in this league.

“It's nothing new really. It kind of reminds me of the old CAA, just a lot bigger and I hope that just means deeper because I do love the fact that we get a chance to play in the best conference, or one of [the best], in the country.”

Santos lauds Hens’ defense

New Hampshire has long been an offensive powerhouse, employing clever schemes to keep the football moving down the field and defenses guessing.

That hasn’t changed since former UNH quarterback Ricky Santos, who guided those offenses during his stellar playing career from 2004-07, is now the Wildcats’ coach.

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But he does expect Delaware’s defense to make it a challenge.

“I think their defensive coordinator Manny Rojas is as good as anybody in the country,” Santos said.

Delaware usually lines up with a 3-man defensive front.

“It’s impressive that they can stop the run in their odd front with only three guys with their hand in the dirt,” Santos said. “Their second-level guys are really, really physical. [Linebacker] Dillon Trainer’s been doing it at a high level for a long period of time. [Lineman] Chase McGowan is a war daddy in there. He’s very physical at the point of attack. So extremely well coached, they're relentless, they run to the ball and they wreak havoc.”

McGowan, outside linebacker Ty Davis and safety Nic Ware were the only returning starters from a veteran unit that was among the best in FCS the last three years.

“Regardless of who they lost, it doesn’t look like they've missed a beat,” Santos said. “I thought they might be better right now. They do a great job creating turnovers so ball security has to be the top of our mind this week.”

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This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware Blue Hens host New Hampshire in Top 25 duel: Live report