NEWARK, Del. - With subfreezing temperatures, it was a tough night to get loose at Delaware Stadium.
Early on in Friday's NCAA Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals, the Blue Hens' superb quarterback, Pat Devlin, appeared to be Exhibit A. On the first three Delaware possessions, the senior from Downingtown East was tackled at the line of scrimmage, nearly picked off, underthrew an open receiver, and was sacked.
But once Devlin's juices got flowing, he methodically picked apart New Hampshire's defense, and his two touchdown passes were enough to send No. 3 seed Delaware (11-2) into next week's semifinals with a 16-3 victory.
"I didn't come out as fast as I needed to," said Devlin, who completed 27 of 38 passes for 261 yards. His two TD throws gave him 20 for the season against only two interceptions. "But we fixed it. Our wideouts were running really good routes. I told the guys that [first] quarter was on me. Then we got it done."
The Blue Hens will host the winner of Saturday's quarterfinal between Georgia Southern and Wofford, either Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
The win kept coach K.C. Keeler undefeated at home in the NCAA playoffs at 7-0 and broke a hex the Wildcats (8-5) had over the Blue Hens, who'd lost their last three games against New Hampshire.
After persistently nicking New Hampshire with paper cuts, Devlin connected with his top receiver, Nihja White, for a 24-yard touchdown to break a 3-3 tie midway through the third quarter. White beat two defenders with a corner route, and Devlin practically laid the ball in his hands. Before the score, none of Devlin's completions went for more than 12 yards.
"We had to make that big play, and [Devlin] made a great throw to Nihja," Keeler said. "That was a little bit of a confidence-builder."
Early in the fourth quarter, Devlin fired a 9-yard scoring pass to Mark Schenhauer, and it was more than enough for Delaware's smothering defense, which went into the game leading the country by allowing an average of 12.3 points a game.
"Our defense played lights out," Keeler said. "We have a really solid team. We don't have any superstars except maybe for No. 17 [Devlin]."
There are 10 players on the roster from the Delaware team that advanced to the national championship game in 2007. That team lost to Appalachian State, the No. 1 seed that plays Villanova Saturday in Boone, N.C.
A rematch between heated rivals Delaware and Villanova remains a possibility for the national title game. 'Nova handed the Blue Hens one of their two defeats, a 28-21 overtime thriller.
After an inefficient start, Devlin found his targets repeatedly as he completed 14 of 17 passes in the second quarter. Regardless of their 126 yards in total offense in the quarter, the Blue Hens couldn't get into the end zone against New Hampshire's physical defense. Delaware appeared nearly unstoppable when it motored from its own 7-yard line to the Wildcats' 8. But the drive stalled and Mike Perry tied the score, 3-3, with a 25-yard field goal.
The drive to set up the field goal covered 15 plays and 85 yards and took 6 minutes, 48 seconds off the clock, but it was New Hampshire that was more pleased with the result.