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Charleston Daily Smell, September 13, 2009
Cannons Edge Baltimore, 20-19, on Last-Minute Longwell FG
Visitors Took Late Lead on Safety and Had Ball — But Sellers Fumbled
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Albany Sliced Onion, September 13, 2009
Pair of Late TDs Boost Racers Over Connecticut, 28-24
Scores by Jones, Buckhalter Wipe Out 11-Point Deficit
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, September 13, 2009
Cherries Whip Hershey, 31-12, for 3rd Straight
2 Picks and 4 Sacks Spoil Flacco’s Homecoming
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Syracuse Posed Standee, September 13, 2009
Crush Surge Past Providence, 30-14, Behind Rodgers
TD Tosses to Moss, Celek, Jackson Build 27-Point 2nd Quarter Lead
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Richmond Timed Distant, September 13, 2009
Washington Ground Attack Pounds Rebels, 28-10
Peterson Runs for 150 Yards, 2 TDs, as Visitors Take 5th in a Row
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New York Slimes, September 14, 2009
Philadelphia Tips Empires, 17-13, on Jacobs Touchdown
Delhomme Throws 3rd Interception to End Comeback Hopes
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, September 13, 2009

Rip Snorter

Cherries’ Game of “Keep Away” Frustrated Flacco

Remember the old playground game of “Keep Away?” Last night the Cherries made Hershey Bars quarterback Joe Flacco “It” in a “Keep Away” game in Flacco’s first visit back to his home college stadium. Delaware denied Flacco’s Hershey offense possession of the ball for long periods, frustrating the rookie quarterback.

The Cherries, in their relatively easy 31‑12 victory over Hershey, limited the former Blue Hen standout’s time on the field to a mere 21 minutes, 16 seconds. Flacco took a mere 42 snaps, barely half of the 77 taken by his Delaware counterpart, Philip Rivers. The Cherries had 25 first downs to Hershey’s 12.

Flacco got off to a bad start: His very first pass was snagged by Bart Scott of the Cherries and returned 25 yards to the Hershey 19. LaDainian Tomlinson powered into the end zone 4 plays later to give the Cherries a 7‑0 lead in the game’s 4th minute. “I saw [Scott],” said Flacco later, “but I thought I could put the ball over Greg’s [Jennings] outside shoulder. Trouble is I tried to guide [the ball] instead of following through.”

After each team went three-and-out, Flacco moved Hershey into the red zone. Then on 2nd and 7 at the Delaware 19, he made his second big mistake. Brian Dawkins anticipated Santana Moss would break off his route and the Cherries’ safety made a perfectly-timed leap to pick off Flacco’s pass, Dawkins’ 5th interception of what is fast turning into one of his best seasons. After the game Flacco mused, “There weren’t any safeties I played against in college with those kind of anticipation skills.”

Welcome to the pros, Joe.

Rivers struggled in the early going as well, but several minutes into the second quarter the Cherries put together a 13-play, 50-yard touchdown drive, thanks to the running of Tomlinson and Antonio Pittman and a pair of 4th down conversions. The score came on a 7-yard pass from Rivers to Heath Miller. That gave Delaware a 14‑3 lead and, as it turned out, would be all the points the Cherries would need.

By halftime the Cherrries had upped their lead to 17‑3, and Flacco was licking his wounds. For the half he completed only 3 passes — just one more than the number he completed to Cherries defenders — in 10 attempts, for 36 yards. That yardage count was one less than the combined yardage of the Scott and Dawkins interception returns.

Flacco was a little better in the second half — 11-for-16 for 84 yards — but the Cherries kept an iron grip on the ball and extended their lead to 31‑6 by the end of the third quarter. To derive a small measure of face-saving Flacco converted a pair of 4th downs during a successful 56-yard drive in the fourth quarter. His 6-yard bullet for a score to Antonio Gates with 5:38 to go earned him some sympathetic cheers.

The Cherries’ proficiency at “Keep Away” was as much due to their impressively balanced offense as to their tenacious defense and its rendering of Flacco as largely ineffective. Delaware outgained the visitors 400-185, with 192 yards on the ground and 208 through the air, nearly a 50‑50 split.

While Tomlinson was the leading ground gainer with 87 yards on 25 carries, Pittman was the bigger story, needing only 8 carries to pile up 66 yards. With Tomlinson having had a busy first half (12 carries), Delaware coach Jon Brams sent Pittman out in place of Tomlinson for the first Cherries possession of the second half. The backup delivered with a 19-yard burst up the middle, a 9-yard gain with a screen pass, and 13 more yards through the heart of the Hershey defense. Tomlinson returned to cap the 10-play, 75-yard drive with his second 1-yard touchdown run of the game, pushing the Cherries’ lead to 21 with 10:45 left in the third quarter.

The Cherries iced the game 7 minutes later with Rivers’ best pass of what turned out to be a pretty good night for him: 22-for-36, 223 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 interception. On 2nd and 10 at the Delaware 48, Rivers sent Lee Evans deep. Evans ran right past Jabari Greer and hauled in a beautifully thrown pass in stride — just like the play is diagrammed — for a 52-yard touchdown. The play electrified the crowd.

On what was otherwise a very good night for the Cherries, the last play saw the disturbing spectacle of Rivers turning, retreating from a charging Darren Howard, and finally curling up on the ground in the fetal position just as Howard was about to inhale him. Brams could have had Rivers simply take a knee three times after the two-minute warning. The Cherries had a first down, and it was obvious Hershey had no intention, given their 19-point deficit, of using their timeouts. At the very least that last play, coming on 3rd and 3 at the Hershey 8 with the clock ticking down under the half-minute mark, could have been a kneel-down. Instead, Brams called a pass play, and Hershey, sensing Brams was being greedy, sent the house after Rivers.

Luckily, Rivers wasn’t hurt — but he easily could have been. When I questioned Brams about the pass call, he explained, “I wanted to get some more points on the board. We hadn’t scored in the quarter. I figured Philip would throw the ball away if no one was open, and then John [Kasay] would come out and kick a short field goal.” As a follow-up, I asked Brams why he needlessly risked an injury to Rivers (I also wanted to ask whether he considered replacing Rivers with Kevin O'Connell for the possession). Brams would not answer. He simply glared at me and ended the press conference.

Coach, admitting you were in the wrong can be a good thing, especially in a situation like this one in which nothing bad happened. Nothing bad, that is, except a likely extra measure of hard feelings on Hershey’s part. Brams, of all people, should remember there will be a rematch in Chocolatetown on Halloween night. By then a more experienced Flacco may have more tricks and less treats for the Cherries than he did last night.