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Blue Hens set sights on national title

Delaware, the 2003 titlist, faces the two-time defending champion.

As a redshirt freshman in 2003, offensive lineman Rich Beverley was on the scout team for a Delaware squad that won the NCAA Division I-AA national championship.

"It was exciting," said the 6-foot-6, 305-pound guard. "I felt we were going back after that game."

Tonight in Chattanooga, Tenn., Beverley and his teammates will play for the crown again when the Blue Hens (11-3) take on two-time defending champion Appalachian State (12-2) for what is now known as the Football Championship Subdivision title.

The site for the game is Tennessee-Chattanooga's Finley Stadium, where all 20,668 seats have been accounted for.

"We're just getting back, and it's just as exciting," Beverley said. "I want another ring."

The Blue Hens have been preparing for the Big Game amid reports that mention their head coach, K.C. Keeler, in connection with the vacant job at Michigan.

But during his radio show Wednesday night, Keeler said he had not been contacted by Michigan, nor had he contacted Michigan.

"Our athletics policy is not to comment on personnel issues of this type," Delaware sports information director Scott Selheimer said when he was asked about the matter yesterday.

In order to claim the program's seventh national championship, Delaware must beat an Appalachian State team that enters the contest riding a seven-game winning streak.

The fifth-ranked Mountaineers, who shocked host Michigan by taking a 34-32 decision in their opener, beat Richmond, 55-35, in the semifinals by scoring 20 unanswered points to close the game.

In 6-0, 175-pound quarterback Armanti Edwards, Appalachian has a special player who set an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 313 in the Mountaineers' win over Richmond. For the season, Edwards has rushed for 1,499 yards and 21 touchdowns while also throwing for 1,750 yards and 14 scores.

"When he's on, he's that good," Keeler said. "What you need to do is limit him. He's [a] Michael Vick [type player]."

The 13th-ranked Blue Hens, who claimed their berth against Appalachian by mounting comeback wins at No. 1 Northern Iowa (quarterfinals) and No. 4 Southern Illinois (semifinals), are not exactly short in the quarterback department themselves, with senior Joe Flacco calling the signals.

With 3,929 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions on 308 completions in 473 attempts, the 6-6, 230-pound Flacco, a Pittsburgh transfer from Audubon, Camden County, has attracted the attention of NFL scouts.

"What people see now is what I've been saying all along," Keeler said. "Joe is tremendously poised and makes all the right game-day decisions."

When Delaware captured the title in '03, the Blue Hens won five games down the stretch on the last series or on the last snap. This season, Delaware dropped its last two regular-season outings, including a five-overtime 62-56 loss to visiting Richmond, and a 16-10 defeat at Villanova.

The Blue Hens opened the postseason by routing Delaware State, 44-7, at home. And then they won back-to-back games on the road against favored opponents.

For their contributions, Blue Hens kicker Jon Striefsky and running back Omar Cuff were named first-team all-Americans on Tuesday.

Striefsky set Delaware and Colonial Athletic Association records this fall with 22 three-pointers. Cuff leads the nation with 38 touchdowns, a Division I-AA record.

"In '03, we had a great quarterback, with a great tailback and wide receivers around him," Keeler said. "Same thing this year. We are not as mature. We're just younger, but the exciting thing is the way we've played defensively the last three weeks."

The last time Delaware reached the final, the Blue Hens left Chattanooga with a 40-0 triumph over Colgate.

"I've never won a championship in my life," said linebacker Walter Blair. "I don't plan on being a deer in the headlights [tonight]."