With the score tied and under a minute left in the game, Delaware gave the ball to the player that had individually accounted for more than half of its total offense.
Running back Wes Hills had bolted for a 61-yard touchdown just over four minutes earlier to tie the score at 21 – his second rushing touchdown of the game. But on a second-and-5 carry from the Maine 40-yard line, Hills was stripped by a Black Bears defender. Maine linebacker Austin Brown scooped up the loose ball and returned it 62 yards to the end zone, securing a 28-21 victory for the visitors Saturday at a rainy Delaware Stadium.
“Someone got their hand in there. I didn’t have it high and tight, and you guys know the outcome,” Hills said. “First things first, I’m taking full responsibility for this loss. It’s my fault, I’m putting it all on me. It’s not on the coaches … I promise it won’t happen again.”
The Blue Hens recorded 393 yards of total offense. Hills ran for 242 of those, the fourth-most yards rushing in school history, and caught for 14 more.
“To be honest, the numbers to me don’t matter,” Hills said. “We got the loss, and I couldn’t care less about the numbers. All I want is to win, and that’s not what we did tonight.”
Head coach Dave Brock referenced several other areas Delaware struggled in leading to the loss.
“I think he had a great game. The ball came out and it turns into a catastrophic play, there’s no other way to frame it,” Brock said. “We should’ve done a lot of different things. We had many, many opportunities. No game is defined by one play."
Delaware’s most glaring weakness Saturday was its inability to throw the football. Delaware's first positive passing yards came with 12:17 left in the game when sophomore quarterback Joe Walker completed an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Vinny Papale. Walker finished with 74 yards passing, completing six of 16 pass attempts.
“We certainly don’t throw the ball well enough. That’s an understatement,” Brock said. “We probably have to look at doing things a little bit different … We’ve got to do a better job, there’s no question about it. If you can’t throw the ball, you’re going to struggle to win, it won’t matter what the rushing statistics are.”
The Hens’ defense consistently struggled to stop Maine quarterback Dan Collins, who threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns. Delaware held the Black Bears to just 68 yards on the ground.
“That’s kind of the inverse of what we did,” Brock said. “You probably shouldn’t be able to win if all you can do is throw, and they found a way to do it.”
Delaware (2-3 overall, 0-2 CAA) began the 2016 campaign with playoff expectations, but those hopes took a drastic hit with a third-straight loss. The Hens likely have to win their six remaining games, including three contests against Top 25 opponents, to make their preseason goal a reality.
“The reality is you make the playoffs if you win eight games and you have a shot if you win seven. I think that’s the reality of FCS football for everybody,” Brock said. “That certainly is still the expectation. I don’t think that changes. Mathematically, at some point it could, but I don’t feel that way right now. I feel like we’ve got to come in tomorrow and get back to work.”