NEWARK — Jalen Randolph knew Delaware was going to run that screen pass the first time it got the ball.
But even the Blue Hens’ running back couldn’t have imagined it working as well as it did.
Delaware caught James Madison in a blitz.
“As soon as I turned around, there was nothing but green,” said Randolph. “Your eyes get big and you get excited. … It opened up.”
Seventy-five yards later, Randolph was in the end zone with a touchdown just 15 seconds into the Hens’ 30-23 overtime victory over the Dukes.
While the game wasn’t decided until Delaware’s defense made a fourth-down stop inches from the goal line on the day’s final play, Randolph’s big TD got the ball rolling. The Hens never trailed in their Colonial Athletic Association opener.
Delaware (3-1), which moved up one spot to No. 24 in Monday’s Sports Network Division I FCS poll, now will try to keep the momentum of that memorable victory over JMU going. The Hens will be going after their fourth straight win when they host Sacred Heart (3-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
That contest starts a three-game homestand for Delaware against teams that are a combined 6-7 right now.
“It’s the most emotional game we’ve played since I’ve been here,” second-year coach Dave Brock said about the JMU win. “It’s the hardest we’ve played. … The effort was tremendous. The players sold out. It was an electric sideline. I’m very, very proud of what they did and how they did it.
“We talk about it all the time — it’s hard to win. We were able to go down there and get one.”
The fact that the defense made the game-winning play was perhaps a good sign for the Hens. A year ago, Delaware’s defense couldn’t hang onto late leads in season-ending losses to Richmond and Villanova.
But on Saturday, safety Jake Giusti and linebacker David Mackall — along with others — combined to stop JMU running back Taylor Woods on a fourth-and-goal play from the one.
“For them to come up with the stop was great,” said Brock. “I thought we played really well defensively the whole game. You feel good about it. We had two guys step up and make a play at the end. It’s very good for them from a confidence standpoint and growth standpoint. I think it will help us going forward.”
All along, Brock has said the Hens have some pretty talented running backs.
On Saturday, after Randolph started the game with his long touchdown catch, fellow sophomore Wes Hills turned in the best game of his career, running for 136 yards on 17 carries.
In overtime, Hills ran for 21 yards on three straight carries to set up Trent Hurley’s four-yard scoring pass to Jerel Harrison. Randolph said he couldn’t have been happier for Hills.
“I’m real proud of him,” said Randolph. “That was his first 100-yard game. And he’s been working hard on special teams and, on offense, he’s in there watching film all the time.
“When he’s in a rhythm like that … even in overtime, I told him, ‘If we go again, you take it. You’re in a rhythm.’ He was feeling it and he was being effective. He played great.”
Ironically, Hills had to switch to jersey No. 30 early in the game after his usual No. 31 got ripped. No. 30, of course, was the number worn by graduated star running back Andrew Pierce the past four years.
“I didn’t notice until like the third quarter,” said Randolph. “I was like, ‘AP graduated.’ He (Hills) definitely made him proud.”
Something to prove
In a college football world where tradition and having a recognized name still matter a lot, Sacred Heart isn’t there yet.
The Connecticut school has had a football program for only 24 years.
The fact is, the Pioneers made the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs last year while the Hens didn’t. But Sacred Heart coach Mark Nofri knows his program is the one that has something to prove when it takes on tradition-rich Delaware for the first time.
“We haven’t had a long tradition of winning year-in and year-out,” said Nofri, who’s been in the program for 21 seasons. “I want people to understand that this isn’t a one-year wonder. I want to continue to win.
“I want to be able to build that respectability. And it comes over the course of time. … You look at Delaware. They’ve always gone to the playoffs, they’ve won the national championship, they have winning programs every year. That’s something that you want for your program and your team.”
Sacred Heart, which lost to Bucknell two weeks ago, is receiving votes in the Sports Network national poll.
Brock said a pair of freshmen, wide receiver/kick returner Troy Gallen and defensive lineman Cedric Udegbe, have suffered what are believed to be season-ending injuries. … Brock said that defensive end Laith Walscheleger, who still hasn’t played this season because of a knee injury, is getting closer to playing but still hasn’t been medically cleared. … Brock, who believes in strong special teams, said he “gets goosebumps” over the Hens blocking a PAT kick against JMU.
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached
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