Massachusetts football coach Kevin Morris has preached defense and ball security to his team all season, and on Saturday, both of those things came to fruition in the Minutemen’s 21-10 upset over No. 9 Delaware.
The game marks the first time in over 30 years that the Blue Hens have allowed 21 points in the opening quarter.
“The guys did well in all three phases of the game [offense, defense and special teams],” said Morris. “We obviously came out fast on offense when we had to win the first quarter.”
Quarterback Kellen Pagel started the game after missing last week’s contest with a concussion, and had arguably his best game of the season. Pagel finished the game 20-of-39 for 245 yards and one touchdown. What’s more, he didn’t turn the ball over once.
“I felt great,” said Pagel. “The past few games I kind of started off not as sharp as I would like to, and picked it up in the second half. Tonight I just wanted to make a big emphasis on myself to just come out and throw and I really felt like we did that as a team today.”
The Minutemen (4-2, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) used a 21-point first quarter to get ahead of the Blue Hens (4-3, 2-2 CAA) and stymie the hostile crowd, then the squad let its defense take over for the remainder of the game. Delaware didn’t have an answer, and fell to 2-2 in the CAA this season.
Senior running back Jonathan Hernandez continued to carry the load in the run game, rushing for 69 yards on 15 carries and scoring one touchdown.
While Pagel had a great day in the pocket, it helped that he had a receiving corps that he was able to throw to all game long. Senior wideout Jesse Julmiste had his best receiving game of the season, catching four balls and leading all receivers with 90 yards.
Tight end Emil Igwenagu also pitched in, hauling in a 6-yard touchdown, and Julian Talley ran the ball in for a score as well. Igwenagu’s touchdown was his third in as many games.
Pagel and Hernandez each had a solid game for the offensive unit, but it was the defense that impressed Morris and held the lead for three quarters.
Darren Thellen continued his timely play in the game, recording two interceptions for the second consecutive week and shutting down the Blue Hen passing attack.
“Then, as the game went on, we really had to rely on the defense and field-positioning to keep the game in a situation where we could win at the end,” said Morris.
“The battle of field position we definitely won today,” said linebacker Tyler Holmes. “Making them go 90-95-yard drives is definitely beneficial for the defense. We also knew their emphasis was to run the ball so we tried to stop the run and I think we were able to do that.”
Delaware scored its lone touchdown in the second quarter when quarterback Tim Donnelly tossed a 14-yard score to tight end Nick Boyle. The Blue Hens also got a 27-yard field goal later in the game from kicker Sean Baner to round out the scoring.
The Minutemen will play again next week, traveling to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for the Colonial Clash against New Hampshire. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
Michael Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.