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New Faces Shine In Season-Opening Win

302sports 433 Aug 31

                                         (Amichi L, Henderson LC, Dennis C, Burton RC, Knight R)

Delaware football knew that it had a lot of production to replace in the receiving corps for 2019. Vinny Papale, Charles Scarff and Joe Walker (who each had over 30 catches in 2018) all graduated, with the latter two fighting for NFL roster spots as the No. 22 Blue Hens opened the season by hosting Delaware State in front of 15,894 fans in the renovated Delaware Stadium.

Their replacements, tight end Bryce De Maille and receivers Thyrick Pitts and Chichi Amachi (William Penn), had a combined for seven catches and 67 yards entering 2019. By the time the final whistle blew Thursday night, the three had 12 catches, 153 yards and a touchdown between them, guiding Delaware to a 31-13 victory.

The emergence of the fresh faces started almost immediately. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Pat Kehoe hit De Maille for seven yards on a play-action look. The very next play he found the tight end from Frederick, Md., for 11 yards and a first down.
Head coach Danny Rocco is extremely high on his young tight end, and the potential he has for the Blue Hens offense.

"He's really good," Rocco said. "He's a special kind of dual threat, big-bodied athlete. He can block, he can run a possession route, and he can get in behind people to catch the football. He's a weapon."

While De Maille had the opening lines, it was Pitts who took the lead offensively. The receiver from Manassas, Va., caught a key 17-yard crossing route on third down to keep the chains moving on a drive that ended in a 38-yard Jake Roth field goal.

Pitts really came into his own in the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he got wide open along the Delaware sideline for a 22-yard gain. After an 11-yard catch to get Delaware into Hornet territory, Pitts came down with an acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone over a Delaware State defender for his first career touchdown, a score that gave the Blue Hens a 25-6 lead and sealed the win.

"I just looked at Pat and he gave me that look," Pitts said. "[He] threw it up and I made a play. It was awesome, great feeling."

Amachi's last catch before Thursday night was during his freshman year during 2016. But during the first quarter, he made a 16-yard catch in double coverage that converted a crucial third down on a Delaware scoring drive. Later on the same drive, his head fake left a Delaware State defensive back on his behind as Amachi caught a ball in the end zone before the play was called back for a penalty. The Philadelphia native later converted a clever 12-yard catch on the first Delaware drive of the second half that also set up a score.

"A lot of guys had their first career starts. A lot of guys really had their first legitimate taste of Division I college football. And a lot of those guys played really well today," Rocco said.

"I think you see the guys who stepped up tonight were behind older guys last year, but we knew they were plenty capable of playing, even last year," Kehoe said. "They got their shot tonight and they stepped up and performed well."

Stray Observations
  • The Blue Hens defensive line had an outstanding evening. Any progress Delaware State made on offense was on the edges, because Delaware had the interior shut down. The Hornets averaged just 3 yards per rush. Cam Kitchen finished with four tackles, including one for loss, while Frank Burton III (William Penn) and Sal Mauro each made big stuff plays. "A big key was just for us to get off the ball and cause havoc," Kitchen said.
  • Sophomore cornerback Justis Henley has been thrown into a starting role, and was matched up with the Hornets' top targets all night. Against the talented Kwannah Kollie, Henley had two big pass breakups in the first quarter that kept the Hornets out of field goal range.
  • Pat Kehoe showed off his wheels on Thursday night. The Blue Hens took their first lead of the evening in the second quarter when Kehoe waltzed 21 yards untouched after a perfectly executed read option. He later scrambled for 11 yards on third down to help set up the Pitts touchdown catch.
Freshman Jourdan Townsend muffed the first punt return opportunity of his career, resulting in a Hornets recovery. But he immediately redeemed himself late in the second quarter when he took a punt 47 yards back into Delaware State territory. The return set up a 24-yard strike from Kehoe to Owen Tyler that gave the Blue Hens a double-digit lead going into halftime. "It's the first ball I've seen him drop since he's been here," Rocco said. "I was asked if I was going to make a change and I said 'No, he's our punt returner.' Then he went out there and performed well."
  • Redshirt senior Brian Dennis (Concord) made an incredible special teams play. As the Hornets aimed to get a punt off, Dennis ran unblocked and smothered it with both hands. As the ball bounced towards the sidelines, Dennis ran and scooped it up, sprinting 14 yards to the end zone to put the cherry on top of the Blue Hens victory.
The Blue Hens were laying the boom Thursday night. Redshirt freshman Matt Palmer delivered a big hit on a kickoff return that stuck the Hornets at their own 14-yard line. Later, safety Noah Plack blew up a Delaware State running back on a handoff.
  • A lot of young players got valuable touches in the fourth quarter, highlighted by Delaware natives Nolan Henderson (Smyrna) and Will Knight (Smyrna). Knight showed off his jets with a 61-yard run late in the game.

Andy Lohman
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