No. 13 Delaware 20, No. 4 Southern Illinois 17
For the second straight week, the University of Delaware football team overcame a 10-point first quarter deficit on the road against a top 10 opponent. The reward is a trip to the NCAA National Championship game for the second time in five seasons.
No. 13 Delaware (11-3), which overcame a 10-0 first quarter deficit to knock off top-ranked Northern Iowa 39-27 last week in the quarterfinals, did it again Saturday at the Blue Hens overcame another early disadvantage and rallied to defeat host and No. 4 ranked Southern Illinois (12-2) in the NCAA semifinals at rainy McAndrew Stadium.
The Blue Hens, who have defeated three teams with a combined record of 34-2 in its post-season run, are now headed back to the national championship game where they will take on two-time defending champion Appalachian State next Friday at 8 p.m. at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, TN. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.
Delaware returns to Chattanooga for the second time in five years after capturing the NCAA I-AA national title in 2003 with a 40-0 win over Colgate. The accomplishment is even sweeter this season after the Blue Hens returned from a two-year absence from the NCAA playoffs, including a 5-6 record a year ago.
The Blue Hens proved to be the comeback kids once again Saturday as they allowed the Salukis to jump out to a 10-0 lead but rallied back on two touchdown passes by Joe Flacco and two field goals by Jon Striefsky to pull out the victory. Striefsky’s second field goal of the final quarter, a 24-yarder with 6:58 left to play, proved to the game-winner.
Freshman cornerback Anthony Walter iced the win for the Blue Hens when he intercepted a pass by Southern Illinois quarterback Nick Hill at the SIU 21-yard line with 1:42 left to play.
“It’s incredible to think that we have beaten two of the best teams in the country at their place after being down early in both,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who improved to 8-1 all-time in NCAA post-season games at Delaware. “It just shows you the kind of resiliency this team has. We showed such tremendout poise and we never panicked. Southern Illinois is one of the best teams we have seen, but we made just enough plays to win this game. It was a toss-up all day. We were fortunate that we made more plays. Our defense came up big and stopped a very good offense. We are going to enjoy this victory and know that we have one more game.”
Flacco, who moved into second place on the all-time UD passing yardage list during the game, completed 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards on the day and hit tight end Robbie Agnone and Kervin Michaud on two short passing strikes. He hit Agnone on an eight-yard pass play wit 12:13 left in the first half to cut the SIU margin to 10-7 and hooked up with Michaud on an eight-yarder with 7:31 left to give the Hens their first lead at 14-10.
Striefsky, who ran his season field goal total to 21 to become the all-time UD and Colonial Athletic Association record-holder, matched his career-high with a 47-yard field goal with 10:09 left in the final quarter to extend the lead to 17-10.
But the Salukis, who had taken a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a 42-yard field goal by Kyle Dougherty and a one-yard run by John Randle, tied the game up at 17-17 when Craig Turner took a kickoff, broke out of a pile at the 35-yard line, and raced 88 yards for a touchdown with 9:52 remaining.
Delaware came right back with its game-winning drive, going 67 yards on 10 plays and clinching the win on Striefsky’s 24-yard field goal with 6:58 remaining. Flacco’s 24-yard pass to Michaud and 15-yard completions to Agnone and Aaron Love were key plays in the possession.
Southern Illinois had one last chance to win the game as the Salukis started the drive at their own 20-yard line after a Delaware punt. Hill threw an incomplete pass on first down, rushed for one yards on the second play, and was intercepted on third down as Walters went high to pick off the throw, clinching the victory and the trip to Tennessee.
Delaware senior running back Omar Cuff finished with 102 yards rushing, surpassing the 100-yard mark in all five of his post-season appearances. Mark Duncan caught six pases for 32 yards while Agnone finished with four receptions for 72 yards, Cuff had four catched for 67 yards, and Michaud hauled in four passes for 48 yards.
Randle led SIU with 129 yards rushing and one touchdown while Hill completede 12 of 25 passes for a season-low 106 yards and was picked off twice and sacked twice.
Walter Blair paced the Delaware defense with a team-high 10 tackles while Erik Johnson posted nine stops and intercepted a first quarter pass deep inside Blue Hen territory, and Walters added five tackles to his game-clinching interception.