Inside the FCS Huddle: Delaware cruises past Lehigh
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Newark, DE (Sports Network) - To put Matt Marcorelle's Delaware football career into perspective, the 2005 season that was his first in a Blue Hens uniform occurred a year before Joe Flacco took his first snap there.
His two seasons lost to injuries, which led to Marcorelle gaining an NCAA hardship waiver for a rare sixth season of eligibility this year - and earned him "grandpa" status among a freshman class which was in middle school when he first arrived on campus - have allowed him to become a team captain for the fourth time this season, which is possibly a first in college football.
He's trying to help his teammates realize his assessment that this is the most complete Blue Hens team in a long time - one capable of taking the final step that the Flacco-led 2007 team fell short of accomplishing as the FCS runner- up.
No. 5-ranked Delaware's playoff run got off to a rousing start in the second round on Saturday as quarterback Pat Devlin threw four touchdowns in a 42-20 rout past No. 19 Lehigh before 13,649.
The good news for third-seeded Delaware (10-2) didn't end there. William & Mary fell to Georgia Southern, so if the Blue Hens defeat fellow CAA Football member New Hampshire (8-4) in a quarterfinal next Saturday in Newark, it will play at home in a national semifinal the third weekend of December.
"In '07 we had an extremely explosive offense, but our defense wasn't even nearly what we are now," said Marcorelle, a middle linebacker who returned to his old position of defensive end against Lehigh because of injuries on Delaware's defensive line. "I think the offense might have been a little better in '07, but our offense is not far behind, and I think our defense is night-and-day different than '07. I think this team overall is a better team."
This year's depth and versatility stand out. Devlin, like Flacco a future pro, draws significant attention, but the Blue Hens' talent is wide-spread. With defensive end Chris Morales sidelined by a hamstring tweak and Michael Atunrase back but still regaining strength after recent meniscus surgery, Marcorelle helped set the tone against Lehigh (10-3).
He stepped up from his middle linebacker spot - where he has set a career high in tackles - and added another nine tackles, including seven solos and 3 1/2 for losses.
Clearly, the wear and tear from all the knee, ankle, shoulder and elbow injuries, haven't slowed the quick Marcorelle.
"This is my 71st game that I've been a part of - not played in, but been a part of," said Marcorelle, who was playing for the 51st time. "I've seen it all. I try to impart information to the young guys. You know, 'Keep your composure, stay confident,' because things are gonna happen, other teams are gonna make plays."
After a competitive first half, Delaware overwhelmed the Patriot League champion, which was coming off a 14-7 first-round win at Missouri Valley Conference champion Northern Iowa and had a FCS-best eight-game winning streak.
Coach K.C. Keeler's Blue Hens nursed a 21-13 halftime lead only to double their point total in the third quarter with three touchdowns.
The Blue Hens started to drain life out of Lehigh's upset bid by scoring on its first drive of the quarter. Devlin sidestepped a linebacker's rush before firing a pretty 38-yard touchdown pass down the middle to Tommy Crosby, making it 28-13 with 10:09 remaining.
Before the quarter was over, Delaware put the game away. Backup tailback David Hayes scored on a 16-yard touchdown run with 4:45 left, then Devlin hit Nihja White for a 20-yard catch-and-run with 17.2 seconds left, a TD which swelled the score to 42-13.
"Pat does a great job of full-field reading," Keeler said after Devlin completed 19-of-26 passes for 256 yards. He has 11 TD passes in his last three games.
"I have the best quarterback in the country, and he proved it again today."
"We did some things well ... but you can't sugarcoat it, they were a better football team - bigger, stronger, faster at times," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. "They were able to break some tackles. I think their offense was really outstanding."
Delaware built its 21-13 first-half lead by scoring on three touchdown drives in which it converted fourth-down attempts. The second drive put the Blue Hens ahead for good and remained alive on Devlin's one-yard keeper on 4th-and-1 from the Lehigh 30. Two plays later, wide receiver Mark Schenauer ran a slant toward the middle and caught a 29-yard pass from Devlin for the first TD reception of his career, providing the Blue Hens with a 14-10 lead with 11:56 left in the second quarter.
"The play actually wasn't supposed to go to me," Schenauer said. "I was more of a decoy route to set up a different route for Tommy (Crosby). The safety actually rolled over and Pat saw me. It was a nice pass."
After Tom Randazzo's second field goal for Lehigh tightened Delaware's lead to 14-13, the Blue Hens extended it to 21-13 on Devlin's one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Chris Campbell, who slipped just outside linebacker Tanner Rivas and twisted his body for a terrific catch with 3:06 remaining in the first half.
"You can't play Delaware and trade touchdowns for field goals, as we did in the first half," Coen said.
Lehigh was denied any points on Anthony Walters' first of two interceptions. Mountain Hawks quarterback Chris Lum had a huge first half, but his attempt for a 22-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first half was snuffed out by the Blue Hens cornerback
"A huge, huge play. If Walters has some speed, he would score," Keeler said, drawing a smile from Walters, who made it halfway there with a 50-yard return.
Lum completed passes to eight different receivers in the first quarter and finished the half 19-for-27 for 198 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Spadola. Lum added a 19-yard touchdown pass to Matt Fitz early in the fourth quarter and finished the game with Patriot League single-game playoff records for completions (35), attempts (58), passing yards (362) and total offense (367).
While Lehigh goes off into an offseason in which the league must decide on whether to go to full scholarships in football, Delaware forges ahead to a game against New Hampshire that is actually the first meeting between the conference opponents since 2007. In that UNH win, Keeler thought the Wildcats knew his team's signals, and he wasn't shy about talking about it following Saturday's win.
Marcorelle remembers the game. Plenty of others, too, over six seasons.
And he thinks Delaware can extend his career another three games.
"It's playoff football, it's a different atmosphere," he said. "Your livelihood is on the line, it really is. One team's going to collect the equipment, it's win or go home, the stakes are risen."
12/04 18:38:39 ET