Story and photo courtesy of Delaware Athletics
NEWARK, Del. - The University of Delaware stayed unbeaten thanks to a punishing defensive effort Saturday afternoon as the No. 15 ranked Blue Hens held Bucknell to a single field goal and got four of them from their own kicker Sean Baner on the way to a 19-3 non-league football victory at Delaware Stadium.
Delaware improved to 3-0 as the Hens held Bucknell (1-1) to just 267 total yards and forced two turnovers while Baner tied his own school record with boots from 20, 21, 32, and a season-long 41 yards. The Blue Hens have now won six straight games over two seasons, the third longest active streak in the nation at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level.
Blue Hen sophomore quarterback Trent Hurley put in another solid effort under center as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 161 yards and scored the Hens' lone touchdown on an 11-yard scramble late in the third quarter that put Delaware up 16-3. He led an offense that was as balanced as could be as the Hens picked up 322 total yards, including 161 on the ground and 161 through the air. Delaware did not turn the ball over until the Hens lost a fumble late in the fourth quarter with the victory already in hand.
Bucknell, which opened its season with a 19-17 win at Marist last week, scored its only points on a 21-yard field goal by Sean Cobelli on the first play of the second quarter that knotted the score at 3-3. The Bison could never put another scoring drive together as they moved the ball inside the Delaware 25-yard line just once on 10 possessions. Cobelli was wide right on a 42-yard attempt to end the first half.
Delaware All-American junior running back Andrew Pierce rushed for 101 yards for the Hens, posting his 16th career 100-yard effort and moving into third place on the all-time UD career rushing list. He now has 3,216 yards in three seasons, moving past the late Chuck Hall, who had 3,157 yards during an All-American career in 1968-70. Michael Johnson led the receiving corps with five catches for 67 yards, taking over as the Hens played without their two top receivers, Nihja White and Rob Jones, who were sidelined with injuries.
“We really needed a game like this before we move into league play,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, whose squad will open Colonial Athletic Association play next Saturday night when the Hens take to the road for the first time to take on William & Mary. “We didn’t execute well in the first half and people are telling our kids how much they should be winning by. But our kids came out in the second half and didn’t panic and that was a positive.”
Baner, a junior who earned first team All-CAA honors a year ago and was mentioned on several pre-season All-American lists, helped the Hens take a 6-3 lead at halftime and then booted a 32-yarder to close out the Hens’ first drive of the second half and take a 9-3 lead. His 21-yarder early in the final quarter capped the scoring. Baner matched his own school record of four field goals set last season against both Old Dominion and Villanova and he extended his streak to 12 straight successful conversions dating back to last season.
Hurley, who also rushed for 28 yards, scored the game’s only touchdown when he capped a 71-yard drive with 4:20 left in the third quarter to up the Delaware lead to 16-3. The mobile sophomore was flushed out of the pocket but he took off up the middle, took a hit right before the goalline, and burst into the end zone for the score.
“Bucknell did a great job in the first half and got us a little off balance,” said Keeler, who improved to 6-0 all-time vs. Patriot League opponents in his 11 seasons at Delaware. “Bucknell realized they couldn’t run the ball right at us. We settled down defensively in the second half and played a heck of a game.”
The Hens scored on their first drive of the game as they drove 56 yards on 12 plays and capped the series on Baner’s season-long 41-yarder. But the Bison came back with their longest drive of the day as they marched 80 yards and capped the effort on Cobelli’s 21-yard field goal to knot the score at 3-3.
Delaware forced a turnover to set up its second score. Freshman defensive end Vince Hollerman put a hard hit on Bucknell receiver Jake Flaherty and junior defensive tackle Zach Kerr recovered at the Bucknell 10-yard line. The Hens’ drive stalled, but Baner booted a 20-yard field goal to send Delaware into halftime up 6-3.
Another Baner field goal gave the Hens a 9-3 lead with a 32-yarder with 11:31 left in the third quarter and the Hens scored on their next possession on Hurley’s scrambling touchdown to up the lead to 16-3. Baner’s fourth field goal, a 21-yarder with 12:36 left, capped the scoring.
Delaware had the chance to put additional points on the board after Tim Breaker intercepted his third pass of the season and returned it to the Bucknell 42-yard line. The Hens drove down to the Bison 15-yard line but fumbled the ball away with 3:30 left to play.