Off and running: Rocco era begins with win over Delaware State
The debut of the Danny Rocco era was met with enthusiasm and excitement from a crowd of over 18,000. Blue and gold could be seen for miles by anticipating fans anxiously awaiting Delaware’s first game. The expected, but hard fought 22-3 win Thursday night against Delaware State left the fans satisfied and ready for the Hens’ upcoming football season.
After a sluggish first half, Delaware took control after scoring two touchdowns—one receiving and one rushing—from senior wide receiver Diante Cherry. After a first half in which the Hens only recorded a safety and two field goals from Frank Raggo, the Blue Hens’ offense found the end zone in the second half. The offense was led by quarterback Joe Walker, who passed for a career high of 192 yards passing and one touchdown. Starting running back Thomas Jefferson also rushed for 102 yards.
“It was just the mental part that we weren’t getting down pat,” Walker said. “We were moving the ball pretty good, just playing fast, but when it was time to settle down for the third and shorts or the third and long—just key parts of the play—we just weren’t connecting.”
Delaware’s defense kept the Hornets out of the end zone, holding them to only a 24-yard field goal. Linebacker Charles Bell and junior defensive back Ray Jones led the defense with seven and six tackles, respectively. Del State completed only three of 13 third down conversions, and the Delaware defense limited the Hornets to 59-yards rushing and 165-yards passing. Linebacker Colby Reeder was ejected from the game for a targeting violation and will have to sit out the first half of the Virginia Tech game. Another key loss for the Blue Hen’s defense was the season ending injury for redshirt senior Justin Watson.
“I think holistically you got to say your defense had a good night out there tonight holding the points down like we did,” Rocco said. “I never really felt they’d have a chance scoring many points tonight so I felt like our defense did sort of hold up their end of the bargain.”
Although the Blue Hens were able to move the football in the first half, their offense demonstrated signs of struggle, failing to capitalize on key scoring opportunities. Delaware did not score a touchdown until its ninth drive, which came after a Del State fumble late in the third quarter.
“I felt like we were executing things,” Cherry said. “Like Joe said though, when it came down to crunch time, third down and just putting it in the end zone we didn’t do that really well.”
Cherry ended the game as MVP, winning the Nate Beasley Award. Cherry had four catches for 83 yards and one touchdown. He also ran 19 yards for his other score. Beasley played at Delaware State for a year before transferring to Delaware. He is credited for getting Delaware and Delaware State to play each other, starting in 2007, all eight encounters ending with a Delaware win.
Going into this Saturday’s game against the nationally ranked Hokies, the Blue Hens need to focus on the following areas: Delaware’s field goal kicking showed its flaws with sophomore kicker Jake Roth missing two field goals in the first half. Defensively, the team was strong, but only had one sack on the quarterback. Offensively, this week’s target will be Josh Jackson who passed for 235 yards and ran for 101 yards against West Virginia. Overall Walker was 13 for 26 with one interception and one sack. Against this type of offense, Delaware’s quarterback play will need to take it to the next level.
This Saturday in Blacksburg, Virginia will tell an awful lot about where the Blue Hen’s are and what we can expect to see from them this season.
“All in all I’m happy to get the win,” Rocco said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and winning college football games is a tough thing to do. We got to get better, no one knows that more than me and we’ll come in here tomorrow and we’ll start working on getting better.”