NEWARK, Del. -- In its first game of the season, Penn gave No. 20-ranked Delaware all it could handle, and looked a lot better than a team picked No. 5 in the Ivy League’s preseason poll. But the Quakers’ upset bid came up just short, as a failed two-point conversion attempt in the final minutes let the Blue Hens escape with a 28-27 win on Saturday.
“There’s no such thing as a good loss, but I’ll tell you this: If our kids can play this way for the duration [of the season], I’ll be real happy,” Quakers coach Ray Priore said.
Delaware kicked off these teams’ first meeting since 1983 -- and just the sixth ever -- with a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Quarterback Nolan Henderson moved the Blue Hens 72 yards in just 5 plays, finishing with a perfectly-placed 29-yard touchdown pass to Thyrick Pitts.
It was a great start for Delaware’s first starting quarterback from the state since 2001. Usual starter Pat Kehoe got the day off after a bruising game against North Dakota State last week.
Penn’s offense was shaky early, but once quarterback Nick Robinson settled down, he looked good. On his first scoring drive of the day, the senior transfer from Georgia ran 19 yards on 3rd and 10, then two plays later threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kolton Huber.
The Quakers went up 14-7 midway through the second quarter, led by junior running back Isaiah Malcolme. He started the scoring drive with an electric 46-yard run, and ended it taking a short shovel pass from Robinson into the end zone.
Penn extended its lead it to 21-7 at the start of the third quarter. On 4th and 1 at Delaware’s 12, new offensive coordinator Kevin Morris went for it and Robinson hit an open Huber in the end zone.
That finally woke the Blue Hens up. Henderson led a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, then the defense forced Penn’s first punt since their first possession of the game. Eight plays later, Henderson threw a 17-yard touchdown to Bryce De Maille to tie the game at 21-21.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Will Knight finally put the Blue Hens ahead 28-21 with a 6-yard touchdown run.
Just when it seemed like Delaware would pull away, Malcome took a punt return 69 yards a touchdown to get within 28-27. Penn went for two to try to take the lead, but Robinson’s pass was too low for Brooks to catch.
It was a big decision, and Priore didn’t back down from it.
“At some point in time, we had to get more points than they did,” he said, later adding, “You can’t be any closer than the 3-yard line to try to win the game, so we said let’s go for it.”
Delaware coach Danny Rocco liked the move, too.
“Not that he needs my input, but I think he did the right thing,” he said. “Their best chance to finish the game was right there.”