Devlin Guides Delaware To A Win Over Lehigh
Lehigh challenges No. 3 seed Delaware early, but the Blue Hens advance to the quarterfinals behind their strong passing attack
By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
NEWARK, De. — Going into the game, the matchup between No. 3 seed Delaware and Lehigh seemed like this might be a battle of defenses.
With the No. 1-ranked scoring defense (Delaware) facing off against the No. 10-ranked scoring defense (Lehigh), few would have been surprised by a baseball score as the final, or a game loaded with punts and field goals.
Instead, fans at Tubby Raymond Field on Saturday afternoon were treated to an offensive showcase - a good old-fashioned quarterback battle, featuring Blue Hen quarterback Pat Devlin and Lehigh signal-caller Chris Lum.
Lehigh would ride emotion to a strong start, taking an early three-point lead and nearly tying the game at halftime. But ultimately, it would be Devlin's Blue Hens that would take the game, 42-20.
"We lost to a better football team today," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. “Obviously today didn’t work out the way we would have liked it to."
The Mountain Hawks understood the margin of error was small against Delaware.
"We knew we were going to have to take advantage of the opportunities that were out there for us. They were able to break some tackles. Their offense was outstanding, especially Devlin, and they were able to get some big plays on us which we hadn’t been giving up since early in the season.”
The Devlin show started on the Blue Hens' 11-play, 68-yard opening drive, where he found wideout Mark Schenauer with a strong pass where only Schenauer could catch it, near the sticks on the left sideline.
Two plays after that strong-armed catch, running back Andrew Pierce burst through the line to give the Blue Hens a 7-0 lead.
Impressive as Delaware's drive was, though, Lehigh responded.
In what seemed almost like a mirror to Delaware's opening drive, Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum found himself with a fourth and 11 to convert deep in Delaware territory — and connected with a strong-armed reception by wideout Jake Drwal for 23 yards to set up a first and goal.
It would take three plays, not two, but Lum threaded a perfect needle to wideout Ryan Spadola — in between two Delaware defenders — to knot the game at seven.
Lum, Drwal and Spadola are all underclassmen and provided a tantalizing glimpse of Lehigh's offense next season with their effecient drive.
A break for Lehigh on Delaware's next drive gave the Mountain Hawks a surge of emotion and made this a ball game early on.
After a catch near the left sideline by Delaware receiver Tommy Crosby, senior Mountain Hawk linebacker Al Pierce flew to the play and made a textbook move to pop the ball out. It was recovered by another senior safety Casey Eldemire at the Lehigh 49-yard line.
Lehigh had Delaware on their heels.
But a golden opportunity was missed on second and 14 where freshman fullback Sean Farrell on Lehigh found himself open in the end zone, but couldn't haul in a Lum pass that really would have put Lehigh up by a touchdown and would have put some serious pressure on the Hens.
Instead, a 28-yard field goal attempt from kicker Tom Randazza gave Lehigha 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Devlin and the Blue Hen offense would quickly atone for their error on the previous drive with another methodical, efficient score to take the advantage once again.
Going 5-of-6 passing on the drive and getting two full yards on a QB sneak on fourth down that needed maybe half a yard to convert, Devlin survived strong Lehigh pressure and delivered a beautiful throw over the middle of the field to Schenauer, running a post pattern, for a 29-yard touchdown.
It's one thing to be able to be efficient, and another thing to be athletic.
But Devlin made the touchdown pass look so natural, 25 yards through the air, placed perfectly, and it even had a little touch as well, with control to go with the velocity.
If he had all day to throw, it still would have been pretty enough, but Devlin also was facing strong Lehigh pursuit when he threw it.
"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."
On the next drive Lum was 4-of-4 passing, finding Delaware native running back Jay Campbell for a big 17 yard pass and wideout Craig Zurn for a big 25-yard reception to get into the Blue Hens red zone.
The final reception to Drwal, however, would end up 3 yards short of the end zone, and Randazza would boot a 25-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.
After the kickoff, Devlin dissected Lehigh's defense again, even under consistent pressure.
After finding Schenauer (5 catches for 114 yards and a TD) once again on a 34-yard strike on third and one, Devlin would get free and find converted linebacker Chris Campbell in the end zone to give the Blue Hens a 21-13 lead.
“I have confidence in all the wideouts and Shenny (Schenauer) has such great hands,” said Devlin after the game. “We had four touchdowns with four different guys today and that just shows you what kind of receiver core we have."
Devlin still praised the Mountain Hawk defense.
"Defensively, Lehigh does a lot of stuff up front that we don't see, stuff that's unorthodox really. That gave our offensive line a challenge, so the biggest thing was to get the line into the right protections. When we were able to protect, the wideouts were able to do their job. I have a lot of confidence in all of the wideouts."
Lum had a chance to narrow, or even close the lead at halftime, as they drove to the Delaware 22 with about 24 seconds to play.
His pass went to Spadola, who was open in the end zone for a split second for a running catch, but whether the wind caused the ball to lose some zip or the pass was underthrown, the ball instead found its way into the hands of an alert Delaware safety Anthony Walters, who returned the ball to midfield as the clock ran out in the half.
“I knew that if we settled down after Lehigh got the lead in the second quarter we would be fine and we were," Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler said. "The plays by Campbell and Walters were huge because it gave us a lot of momentum heading into halftime.”
Lehigh knew it had to go for broke to stay with the Blue Hens.
"I don't second-guess that at all," Coen said after the game. "Field goals weren't going to win this game. We were in the red zone there, and it was worth taking the shot there before the half."
Lehigh got the ball in the second half, but a three and out set up another efficient, methodical drive for Delaware that gave the Blue Hens a crucial two-score lead and ultimately would bring enough momentum to end Lehigh's season.
Delaware went 74 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 12-yard Devlin rush and an 11-yard strike to Phillip Thaxton. A 38-yard, perfectly-thrown rainbow pass to Crosby gave Delaware a 28-13 lead.
"I was impressed by Devlin coming into this game," Coen said. "He made some great throws, fitting the ball into some tight windows, and his receivers made some great catches."
Lum tried respond on the next drive, as the Lehigh coaching staff emptied out the playbook looking for the series of plays to get the Mountain Hawks back in the game.
Junior running back Matt Fitz, who had only five receptions all season going into the playoff game, started getting a hot hand, earning a first down on the drive and hauling another pass to get to the Delaware 22.
But Lum and Lehigh could get no further, as a slow-developing pass to running back Zach Barket was stopped short of the sticks.
“Offensively we did some nice things throwing the ball,” Coen said. “But we weren’t able to finish some key drives. A lot of times we were down in or near the red zone and came away with no points.”
Lehigh's offense never seemed to recover from that chance to grab the game, and after a few punts and a couple of great runs by running back Andrew Pierce (25 yards) and running back David Hayes (16 yards for the touchdown, interior counter runs that seemed near-identical), Lehigh fell behind 35-13.
Delaware converted a second Walters interception into Devlin's fourth touchdown pass on the afteroon — a 20 yard strike to wideout Nihja White that was just as pretty as the other Devlin touchdown passes.
Devlin ended the afternoon an efficient 19-of-26 for 256 yards and four touchdowns. All six Delaware touches were scored by different players, showing the versaitility of their balanced offense.
For Lehigh's part, Lum and the offense battled their way all the way until the end.
Lum attempted 58 passes, completing 35 of them for 362 yards.
All those numbers were single game Patriot League postseason records, besting Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph's numbers against national champion Villanova a year ago.
Lum also set the records for total yards of offense (367) and total number of plays (65).
“Our kids battled the whole game,” Coen said. “Their effort never waned. We’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about. We had a great season. We won the Patriot League, won 10 games, won at our archrival and went out and beat the champions of the Missouri Valley Conference."
Coen, who was thought to be on the hot seat just a year ago, was quick to note that Lehigh's setbacks had come against some of the best teams in FCS.
"There are eight teams left in the playoffs, and our three losses came to three of those eight teams," said Coen. "We played 13 games, and five games came against nationally-ranked opponents. That's the definition of a great year."
Coen is also excited about the future.
"I think we’ll have a good football team coming back next year than can build off this experience."
Keeler was happy to get a playoff win.
“Lehigh gave us everything we thought they were going to give us,” said Keeler. “We always say that the CAA prepares us for tournament play and I think that was certainly true today."
It also doesn't hurt to have a great passing attack.
"I don’t think Lehigh saw a passing game like ours in the regular season this season," Keeler added. "Pat is the best quarterback in the country and does such a great job reading the field. The offensive line did a great job protecting him today like they have all season."
For Delaware, the season marchs on.
“All we know is that Monday they are going to be collecting their equipment and it could have been us," Keeler said.