TOWSON, Md. - Sophomore Travis Hawkins had an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as No. 21 Delaware (5-4, 3-3) accumulated a school record 240 yards on kickoff returns en route to a 35-30 come-from-behind Colonial Athletic Association victory over the No. 13 Tigers (6-2, 4-1) at Minnegan Field at Johnny Unitas® Stadium on a cold and snowy night.
In a game that featured five lead changes, the Blue Hens overcame deficits of 10-0, 16-14 and 30-29.
The loss was the Tigers' first defeat in five home games this season and it was their first loss against an NCAA FCS opponent. It also dropped the Tigers out of a first place tie in the CAA with No. 8 Maine (7-1, 5-0). The Tigers visit Maine next week.
"Give a lot of credit to K.C. Keeler and his staff," Towson Coach Rob Ambrose said. "They did a great job preparing for us. Our youth definitely showed its face tonight. We have to learn from it and regroup really fast because Maine is for real.
"We just talked in the locker room about challenges," added Ambrose. "We really haven't had to deal with something like this. We will find our mistakes and we will fix them."
Sophomore Andrew Pierce, the 2010 CAA Rookie of the Year, led Delaware by rushing for 158 yards on 34 carries with three touchdowns. Pierce had his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season as the Blue Hens earned their fifth straight win over Towson.
After forcing a turnover on the Blue Hens' first possession, the Tigers needed just 1:19 to take a 7-0 lead when freshman tailback Terrance West scored on a 46-yard run to finish a four-play, 59-yard drive.
An interception by linebacker Kenton Powell ended the Blue Hens' second possession at the Tigers' 35-yard line. With 4:12 left in the first quarter, the Tigers upped their lead to 10-0 when sophomore D.J. Soven converted a 28-yard field goal.
An 80-yard kickoff return by freshman Michael Johnson gave the Blue Hens the ball at the Tigers' 11-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Tim Donnelly scored on a four-yard run to cut the deficit to 10-7. Moments later, the Blue Hens recovered a fumble by West and they marched 61 yards in six plays for a 14-10 lead on Pierce's 23-yard run.
The Tigers responded with a 73-yard, 13-play drive that resulted in a seven-yard TD run by West for a 16-14 lead. However, a bad snap on the conversion resulted in Soven's first miss of the season.
The Tigers' lead lasted 14 seconds. Hawkins responded with an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put Delaware ahead, 20-14. Donnelly completed a two-point conversion pass to Nihja White to make it 22-14.
With 2:05 left in the half, Delaware extended its lead to 29-16 when Pierce scored on a 13-yard run to complete a 54-yard drive.
A 47-yard kickoff return by Derrick Joseph gave the Tigers great field position. In the final minute of the half, they marched to the Delaware eight-yard line. On fourth-and-one at the eight, West ran around the left end and scooted into the end zone for his third touchdown, pulling the Tigers to within 29-23 with 26 seconds left in the half.
Midway through the third quarter, West's 14-yard touchdown run gave the Tigers a 30-29 lead.
But, Delaware responded by marching 65 yards on 11 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. When Pierce scored on a five-yard run, Delaware was ahead by 35-30. The Blue Hens missed the two-point conversion.
At that point, the Blue Hens' defense took over. With 11:16 left, defensive end Michael Atunrase intercepted a pass to stop a drive at the Delaware 21-yard line.
With 2:32 remaining, linebacker Paul Worrilow ended a Towson drive with an interception at the Tigers' 43-yard line.
After the Tiger defense held the Blue Hens, Sean Baner attempted a 38-yard field goal. But, senior Nick Oates blocked the kick and junior linebacker Danzel White picked up. Donnelly, the holder on the kick, tackled White, preventing him from making a long return. But, the Tigers weren't able to pull out the win.
Although the Tigers accumulated 388 yards of offense while holding Delaware to 257 total yards, mistakes were costly to them. In addition to three turnovers, the Tigers allowed 240 yards on kickoff returns.
West, the four-time CAA Rookie of the Week, rushed for a career high 155 yards on 27 carries with four touchdowns. Quarterback Grant Enders completed 15 of 30 passes for 159 yards but had two interceptions. He also ran for 72 yards on 12 carries. White led Towson with 11 tackles.
"We just beat a very good football team," said Delaware Coach K.C. Keeler. "Rob Ambrose will get my vote for Coach of the Year. Their offensive line is outstanding and they just keep coming at you. This was a huge victory for us because we really needed a win over a good team."