Walker propels Hens to pivotal win in Portland, 31-17
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
PORTLAND, MAINE –– Down three in the first quarter against Maine, a game the Blue Hens could not afford to lose if they are to make playoffs, former starting quarterback Joe Walker, whose athleticism often dazzled but was plagued by inconsistent on-field execution, entered the game.
J.P. Caruso, the transfer who threw for just 43 yards in last week’s disappointing loss at Towson, had failed to complete any of his first four passes against the Black Bears’ pass defense, ranked second in the CAA. In three drives, the Delaware offense had moved 15 yards, punted twice and fumbled while Maine, led by FCS-leading rusher Josh Mack, had drove to midfield and the Delaware 13 and 23 yard lines in each of its first three drives.
Aided by a blocked field goal, the Blue Hens remained only three points behind midway through the opening frame. On his first play, Walker found tight end Brandon Whaley for 42 yards. Delaware entered Maine territory, but fumbled for the second time in four drives.
Following a Black Bears touchdown, Walker morphed into into a running back and a receiver. Over the next three Delaware drives, he ran the ball seven times for 47 yards and caught three passes for 81 yards. The redshirt junior sparked the turnaround for a Blue Hens offense that tallied touchdowns on its final two drives of the second quarter and took a 14-10 halftime lead.
“I always knew I could catch the ball,” Walker said. “I just never played the position.”
The decision to emphasize Walker the running back and receiver, opposed to Walker the quarterback, was due in large part to the uncertainty surrounding the status of leading-receiver Jamie Jarmon, who was battling a bruised lung. Jarmon was ruled out late in the week and did not make the trip to Portland. In Delaware’s upset win over Richmond two weeks ago, Jarmon caught three balls with a touchdown and totalled over 100 yards on the ground with two scores.
“He [Walker] did some of the things that Jamie [Jarmon] had been doing and then we added that, so that gave us the explosive plays that we needed to have in the game, and he did a great job,” Head Coach Danny Rocco said.
Walker was utilized far less in the second half. A heavy dose of running back Kani Kane, who finished with 26 carries for 99 yards, and a dominant Blue Hens defense, led by Troy and Colby Reeder, who combined for 24 tackles, a blocked punt and a special teams touchdown, defined the final 30 minutes.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 17, Maine wide receiver Micah Wright muffed a punt, C. Reeder scooped it up and walked five yards into the end zone to give Delaware a 24-17 lead. After a Maine punt, the Blue Hens offense marched 58 yards in 13 plays, burned 7:44 off the fourth quarter clock and closed the door on the Black Bears with a Caruso 1-yard rush touchdown.
After the first quarter, the Delaware defense allowed 298 total yards, but only seven points. Mack finished with 173 rushing yards.
“In the front end we were like ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t stop these guys right now,’” Rocco said. “But on the hind end, it was kind of bend but don’t break, don’t let them into the end zone, make them earn the yards down in the red zone.”
In addition to the Reeder brothers’ 24 tackles, safety Nasir Adderley, who had registered four interceptions in the Hens’ previous three games, had 14 tackles. Senior defensive lineman Bilal Nichols totalled seven tackles, a sack and a blocked field goal.
Win the win, Delaware (6-3) stayed alive in the hunt for a playoff spot, secured a winning record for the first time since 2013 and dropped Maine (4-4) to seventh in the CAA. Two regular season games remain: the Hens return home this weekend to take on Albany (3-6). Villanova (4-5), who was shut out by Richmond, 22-0, on Saturday, is set for a Nov. 18 matchup.
“Our playoffs start now,” Nichols said. “Every game is critical, we can’t go out and play like how we did last week. That’s unacceptable and we felt the urge to come up here and take care of business and do what we had to do.”