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Blue Hens "Cuff" Dukes, 34-28
Newark, DE - In a game between the last two 1AA national championship teams, RB Omar Cuff led his Delaware Fighting Blue Hens (4-3, 1-3) with 236 yards and 4 TDS past the #11-ranked James Madison Dukes (4-3, 2-2) , 34-28, on a damp, rainy day to end the FBH's three-game losing streak. Cuff was the first UD running back since 1994 to gain over 200 yards for the Hens. It was no small feat as JMU came in ranked second in 1AA against the run holding its opposition to 57.3 rushing yards per game. Delaware gained 334 on the ground despite averse conditions on a slick, muddy field. The cold, rainy weather turned back may loyal fans, and many left Delaware Stadium after the first half with the score deadlocked 14-14, but Collegefootballfan.com stuck it out until the end in what turned out to be a great game. We then continued on to West Chester, PA for the key PSAC contest between West Chester (an annual non-conference rival of UD) and East Stroudsburg, where the rains came down steadier and even heavier. Our seat at Delaware Stadium was two rows up in the end zone directly in line with the sideline on the JMU side of the field. It was a great picture taking angle, but difficult to see the spot of the ball or the scoreboard for that matter. More of that in Extra Points.
UD drove to the JMU 24 on its opening series and lined up for a 41-yard FG. The play called was an omen that something was amiss with the UD kicking game as FR PK Jon Striefsky directly took the snap and ran right on a fake. He dropped the ball, however, and the Dukes took over at their own 34. The official program of Delaware Football listed the starting PK as FR Zach Hobby, but he never played. We saw him escorted off the field by the training staff later in the second half without pads and helmet. On the next possession, the Hens drew first blood as Cuff capped a 67-yard drive with a one-yard TD run. The PAT was blocked and the score remained, 6-0. It would be Striefsky's last attempt of the day as the Hens went for two points after each subsequent TD. His squib kick on the kickoff resulted in a return to the UD 29 by WR Ardon Bransford. The Dukes came away with nothing after the effort as PK David Rabil went wide left on a 26-yard FG attempt.
TB Maurice Fenner got the lead for the Dukes early in the second period as he went around the right side for a four-yard TD run after his team took the ball back on its own 49. With Rabil's extra point, JMU took a 7-6 lead. The score remained that way after several more exchanges. With less than three minutes left in the half, Cuff twisted and turned and took the ball 48 yards down to the Dukes' two. After an offsides penalty, Cuff took it in from one to re-take the lead for the Hens. With a kicker that was evidently not ready, Coach KC Keeler went for two. QB Sonny Riccio, one of the teams many 1A transfers, he from Missouri , dropped back and went off left tackle for the two to give Delaware a 14-7 lead. Last year's defending 1AA champs took over at their own 28. In five plays they would knot the score as TB Alvin Brooks ran 35 yards to the UD 12 from where QB Justin Rascati scrambled and rolled left into the end zone. The point after tied it up, 14-14, with :37 remaining. UD took the ball over at its 37 after the kickoff, and despite having all their time-outs remaining, the Hens ran one play and left to a chorus of boos as they left for the break. The fans were looking to get close for a FG attempt, but Coach Keeler understood his kicking situation and determined to preserve his offense for the second half.
The first half had taken place during on-again, off-again drizzle. The UD band took the field on Parents and Family Weekend, but so did a driving, cold rainstorm. It poured hard and steadily. The band members clad in blue and gold parkas and band caps thrived in it. The flag squad wearing heavy, cotton sweat shirts just laughed off the rain. Most fans though ran for cover under the stands on both sides of the field, and eventually so did CFF with our rental stadium seat to keep it dry. We walked back to our seat as the rain continued early in Q3 and play began, but many fans called it quits at halftime because of the weather. The announced crowd of 22,059 was way off the mark as no-shows accounted for a good portion of the crowd. The hardest rain ended early in the third period, but it remained cold and wet. The rain subsided for much of the half and would begin again late in the game. Those that left missed a great, well-played game despite the elements.
As trombones, trumpets and tubas of the UD band roamed sections of Delaware Stadium playing tunes to rev up the remnants of the thinning crowd, the two teams exchanged punts three times until the Fighting Blue Hens put together a 10-play drive where Cuff scored again from the one. A fan in the stands listening to a radio broadcast said the Soph RB had 131 yards at that point in the game. Without a kicker for the PAT, UD went for two again. Riccio (9 of 18 for 80 yards passing and 54 yards on 11 carries) tossed his conversion attempt to TE Justin LaForgia to make the score 22-14. LaForgia is another 1A transfer, from Cincinnati. On its next series, JMU's Rascati had his pass tipped and intercepted by the Hens' DB Nicos Chavis who returned it 8 yards to the Dukes' 40. The UD kicking game raised its ugly leg again. The Hens came up short at the JMU 17 when it neglected an attempt for a 34-yard FG and instead Riccio threw an incomplete pass on fourth and ten. The Dukes took over on downs trailing by the same 22-14 score as the third period ended.
The Hens got great field position again as PR Aaron Love returned a JMU punt 34 yards and an unsportsmanlike call against JMU put them on the JMU 29. On fourth and goal at the one, Riccio started to roll right, reversed field and found LaForgia in the end zone again, but this time for six. The two-point conversion fell incomplete for a 28-14 Blue Hen lead with 8:10 left in the balance. As in the first half, the Dukes weren't about to lie down as long as there was time left on the clock. Rascati ( 20 of 32 for 213 yards) completed three straight passes for 50 yards to the UD 13 before passing to WR LC Baker on the right flank from where he cut back to the left to close the score to 28-21. Delaware started its ensuing drive at its own 21. CFF noted that James Madison would definitely hold an advantage over the Blue Hens if this game went into OT. Not being able to kick for FGs or PATs will not allow a team to go far into OT. From their own 40, the Hens called on #28 once again, and this time Cuff burst over left tackle and raced 60 yards for his fourth TD of the day and a 34-21 lead with 2:45 left. In his wake was JMU DE Isai Bradshaw who remained on the ground with a leg injury. He was helped off the field after the play. Riccio was stopped in his rushing attempt for two points. They never called Cuff's number on the two-point tries. JMU needed two TDs and two one-point conversions to win this game. There was still life left in them. Rascati passed and ran his team from his own 32 to the Blue Hen 18 where the Dukes next play pulled all but one FBH defender to the right. Rascati turned to his left to connect with TE Casmine Harris who was escorted by one of his big OL to take out the one defender near him for an 18 yard scoring play. With Rabil's conversion, the Dukes trailed 34-28 with 1:34 left. The Dukes' "hands team" lined up for Rabil's onsides kick, but the ball hopped up and was quickly grabbed by the Hens LaForgia to control the ball and preserve the victory for Delaware. With the ball on the 48, the Hens ran out the clock as the Dukes had used up their one remaining time-out. It was a well played game until the end. Despite the weather and field conditions, both teams made few mistakes and played like championship caliber teams throughout. CFF was glad to have had the opportunity to see an unusual match-up between the two previous national champs of the past two years, but also the opportunity to see two great programs compete in such a great 1AA game. JMU heads back to Harrisonburg to host Richmond, 20-10 winner over UD the previous week, and the Blue Hens head to Maine to meet the Black Bears, 38-2 losers to the Dukes two weeks ago. It may be a stretch for either team to make the play-offs this year with three losses each at this point. UMass and UNH are current leaders in the A-10, but a third spot may be up for grabs among the other conference members. UD hosts UMass in two weeks which may help their cause to get an at-large bid. We headed to West Chester.
Extra Points: Fearsome Foursome Weekend was whittled down the "Terrific Twosome" instead because of work obligations that came up on Thursday and Friday. The Maryland game was a sell-out anyway and without tickets for this one it would have been difficult without putting up a lot of cash that we weren't ready to pay for. VA Tech beat the Terps, 28-9. As predicted that Navy would blow-out Princeton in a Sprint football contest. Navy triumphed 98-0! Good for Navy, but I'm glad we didn't waste our time. The two games we watched Saturday, this one and the 18-17 win by West Chester over East Stroudsburg, are the kinds of games that make college football enjoyable for CFF.
As for Sprint Football, for those who don't know, it's regular football rules played by players with a weight restriction of 172 lbs (we think). There are only six varsity programs now in existence - Navy, Army, Princeton, Penn, Cornell, and VMI, who started a program this fall. Army and Navy dominate. Their "Star Game" will be televised nationally on Nov. 4 at 5 pm by ESPNU. In years past, Rutgers and Columbia also fielded teams. At one time Harvard and Yale did, too. Budget restrictions aside (or Title IX), it's too bad more universities don't field such teams. With limited players available for big time play, you'd think some schools would offer the opportunities for good student-athletes who are not behemoths to have an opportunity to play four more years of football after their HS careers are through. Make it a non-scholarship league where the students come out for a try-out. That's what the academies do.
As we noted above regarding our seat location, Delaware has to think more about their fans in the North stands. The only scoreboard in the stadium is directly behind them. Fans from the extreme ends in this end zone have to walk down to the bottom step to look back up to see the time, score and everything else. There's room on top of the building at the opposite end for a smaller scoreboard to benefit the North end zone fans. We can't think of any other venue with stands on fours sides with only one scoreboard at one end of the stadium!
The UD band started its pre-game festivities from under the West Home stands. They line up there and march to the school fight song to the north end to start their on field ceremonies. When the 20(?) piece tuba section came by our seats to perform during the second half, it was noticed that many tubas are dented and dinged up pretty much. We don't know much about tubas, but they must be very soft bras to begin with and players must take part in tuba wars of some sort. We estimate 75% we saw are pretty banged up. What would make contact with a tuba besides another tuba?
Riccio handled a lot of high snaps from center in the shotgun formation. We're not sure if it's by design or not, but on several occasions UD used a play where he faked that the ball went over his head as it was directly snapped back to a runner instead.
It's a sign of aging, but it was well worthwhile since we would sit through two games this day. I rented a portable seat for $4 primarily since I brought nothing to dry the wet, aluminum bleacher seat with. Besides, recent games without a seat back are usually result in a stiff back the next day. The pants legs got wet, but the seat stayed dry. It was definitely a good move on this fan's "part" (pardon the pun).
Delaware needs to mark parking lots better for fans from out of town, but they do a nice job of letting youth organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts use the funds for to finance their local organizations.