“It was a great play”: Kehoe and the Blue Hens sidestep Elon
With minutes remaining in the first half Saturday, the scoreless Blue Hens needed a spark.
Having committed three turnovers in less than 30 minutes of action, the offense looked stagnant and lifeless. The defense, which held Elon to only three points off those three turnovers, was optimizing the adage “bend but don’t break.”
Starting at their own three-yard line with 1:26 remaining in the half, after Nick Pritchard and the special teams unit downed the ball near the goal line, Elon was stopped on three straight runs. Delaware spent all three of their timeouts and delivered the ball back to their offense on their own 40 yard line, with 1:02 remaining and no timeouts.
Pat Kehoe then orchestrated a six play 53-yard touchdown drive, capped off by an acrobatic catch from tight end Charles Scarff in the corner of the end zone. Pulling Delaware within three, it was the much-needed jolt that led to a dominant second half in the Blue Hens 28-16, dispensing of the No. 5 Elon Phoenix.
“In that timeline right there, to be quite honest, the whole game changed,” Head Coach Danny Rocco said Monday. “The whole game shifted. From that moment forward we were the better team, we really were.”
The drive before halftime not only keyed Delaware’s victory Saturday, but continued a midseason turnaround that sees Delaware back in the playoff conversation in spite of their blemish from opening night against Rhode Island. After the win, the 4-2, 2-1 Blue Hens came in at 24 on the STATS FCS Top 25 poll — their first appearance on the poll since the preseason when they ranked 15.
“Huge. That drive was huge,” Kehoe said Monday. “That really started to swing momentum in our favor. Throughout the whole first half we knew that there was a couple of plays where just one thing went wrong and if we did it correctly it could’ve sprung a big play. We knew that once we got things rolling that they couldn’t stop us.”
Kehoe had fumbled the ball away twice earlier in the first half and threw an interception off the hands of wide receiver Joe Walker. On the season, seven of Kehoe’s eight turnovers have come in the first half, with only one coming in the second half at North Dakota State.
He continued to display resiliency and a short memory, leading the Blue Hens to touchdowns on three of their five second-half series.
“We had to go with tempo, we didn’t have any timeouts closing in to under a minute with 56 yards to go or something like that,” Kehoe said. “I think the tempo and just their plan to defend the two-minute philosophy with dropping eight guys out and rushing three really helped me sit back there and make some decisions and find some escape lanes to move the ball.”
“He’s able to recover and respond,” Rocco said. “Certainly had a poor first half, but it never really affected my confidence that he wouldn’t have a good second half. There’s not going to necessarily be that correlation.”
The Blue Hens weren’t out of dodge yet. They scored on their first drive of the second half via Scarff’s second touchdown grab, but fell behind once again, 16-14, after a pair of Elon field goals. It was with 7:01 remaining in the game and a dime arched downfield over the top of the defense from Kehoe to Vinny Papale, that Delaware began pulling away.
Facing third and four 23 yards out from the end zone, Delaware lined up in 11 personnel with all three starting receivers, Papale the nearest, in trips to Kehoe’s right.
“We had a six man protection on and they were walking a couple linebackers up trying to trick us out,” Kehoe said. “We were trying to see who was actually going to blitz. It ended up being all three of them.”
Matt Baker, Elon’s outside linebacker, ended up the free rusher, coming from the left side untouched. Simultaneously Walker and Jamie Jarmon broke their routes underneath and Papale continued upfield.
“Their Will backer came clean inside the edge in the b-gap and Pat saw him,” Rocco said. “So Pat, left-handed, he stepped to his right to just avoid, to buy a little more time, then he launched the ball accurately and he took a really big shot.”
The pass was thrown a beat before Baker laid into Kehoe. The ball was lofted in the air before Papale turned his head around to look for it, but once he did, he was only a few steps from the ball and the end zone.
“I knew we had man-to-man coverage in the back end and once I saw him come free I just sidestepped and I knew where Vinny was going to end up,” Kehoe said. “I just put it up there with enough air to let him run under it and he made a great play, made a great break on the ball. It was an awesome play. The stadium really erupted after that, it was cool to experience.”
The play and the ensuing extra point put Delaware up 21-16. With the crowd reeling, the defense forced three straight Elon incompletions on the next series. The offense then iced the game, running it six times on a 53-yard scoring drive that ended with a two yard Kani Kane touchdown run.
“It was a great play,” Rocco said. “… in real time I knew he took a shot and I saw the whole thing unfold, but I didn’t quite recognize what he did.
“It was an extremely impressive play, in a real critical part of the game.”
Through six games, Kehoe has offered stability at a position of dire need for the Blue Hens. Delaware ranked last in passing offense from 2015-2017. Kehoe, who spent the previous two seasons as Delaware’s third-string quarterback, is third in the CAA in passing yards per game with 210.8 on average.
With his disastrous performance at the FargoDome before the open date excluded, Kehoe’s numbers are among the best Delaware has had from a passer since they last made the playoffs in 2010, behind Pat Devlin.
|Pass Attempts-Completions||Comp. %||Pass TDs||INT||Pass Yards||Pass Yards/Game|
He’s developed on-field chemistry with his roommate Scarff, who is tied for second in the CAA in receiving touchdowns with five, and Papale, his slot receiver, who’s nearly doubled his receiving yardage from a season ago.
Kehoe’s 15.4 passing yards per completion lead the CAA.
“Our confidence keeps rising,” Kehoe said. “You see it every week, our guys keep making plays on the ball. To me that’s really encouraging because I just have to put it somewhere where it gives them a shot to make a play.”