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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 24, 2008
Cherries Take Command Early, Top New York, 27-20
Tomlinson Runs for 93 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
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Harrisburg Pay and Rot Ooze, August 24, 2008
Portis, Hershey Bars Rally to Beat Philadelphia, 35-23
Backup QB Boller Throws 3 TD Passes, All to Mason
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Hartford Crude Rant, August 24, 2008
Comets Down Providence, 21-14, to Remain Unbeaten
Cotchery Gets Winning Score With 12:22 Left
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Albany Sliced Onion, August 24, 2008
24 Unanswered for Racers in 24-17 Win Over Syracuse
2 TD Catches by McMichael Help Keep Crush in Basement
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Baltimore Sunk, August 24, 2008
Bolts Badly Misfire in 10-0 Loss to Washington
Roethlisberger’s 4 Picks Waste Solid Effort by Defense
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Charleston Daily Smell, August 25, 2008
McNabb, Richmond Best Manning, Cannons, 35-26
Sellout Watches as Pass Defense Gives Up 365 Yards, 4 TDs
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 24, 2008

Rip Snorter

Kicking Game Decisively Tilted Field in Cherries’ Favor

When a team is outgained, as the Cherries were last night by the Empires 343‑307, but still manages to win, the outcome is usually swung by one or more of these factors: penalties, turnovers, and special teams play.

What in particular was it, then, about the special teams play that made the difference for Delaware in its 27‑20 victory? It wasn’t place-kicking. Kasay and the Emps’ Rian Lindell each connected on two medium-to-long distance field goals. Nor was it a kick or punt return that went the distance.

Rather, it was the way the Cherries tilted the field in their direction with excellent kickoff and punt return coverage and returns.

Lindell’s kickoffs were consistently short, and the ageless Dante Hall’s returns were consistently long. Hall almost broke his return of the opening kickoff all the way and came close to doing so on a later return. Four times the Cherries started drives after kickoffs outside the 35. Those drives accounted for 17 points.

On the other hand, Kasay’s kickoffs were consistently long, and the Cherries’ coverage was outstanding. Only once in six tries did Leon Washington return a Kasay kickoff outside the 30, and on that possession the Emps went three-and-out.

Recall it was Washington that broke open New York’s season opener on national TV with an 88-yard return for a touchdown against Baltimore. I’ll bet that won’t be the last time he takes one to the house. He is fast and shifty. The Cherries’ kickoff coverage team really rose to the occasion.

The story on punts was much the same, albeit the differences were not as stark. Washington returned only a single punt for four yards. He twice called for fair catches. Yamon Figurs of the Cherries, on the other hand, had a couple of nice punt returns in the second quarter — 12 and 9 yards. Neither led to a score, though.

Washington’s punt return was noteworthy because it was the culmination of the payoff on a gamble by Jon Brams at a critical juncture in the game. With 6:54 remaining and the Cherries holding a 7-point lead, they had to punt from inside their 20. Ben Graham got off an ordinary punt — 42 yards — and Washington was tackled immediately at his own 43.

The Emps were flagged for an offsides penalty, though, and Brams, hoping to relieve pressure from his defense, made the risky decision to have Graham kick again. Graham and the Cherries’ coverage team justified Brams’ confidence, Graham by booming 62-yard kick to the New York 18 and the coverage team by corraling Washington before he could turn upfield at the Emps’ 22.

The 21-yard net starting field position handicap proved too much for the Emps to overcome. After they got a couple of first downs to move into Cherries territory, the Delaware pass defense, which had been abused by Delhomme in the second half up to that point, reasserted itself by forcing four straight incompletions. The last, which came when Fakhir Brown jarred the ball loose from intended receiver Donte Stallworth, all but sewed up the win for the Cherries.

With that they took over on their own 38, yet another instance of fortuitous field position. Although they went three-and-out, Graham pinned Washington inside the New York 10 with a beautifully placed punt, yet another instance of disadvantageous field position for the Emps.