Football: Ranking validated after big rivalry win

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September 29, 2009

1:20 AM

Junior linebacker Wes Steinman said it best after the Tribe demolished Delaware 30-20 Saturday night.

“We’re 4-0, boys. Feels good, doesn’t it?”

For Tribe fans, it should feel great.

Despite the College’s season-opening upset over Virginia and subsequent 3-0 start, the squad had yet to truly legitimize itself as a true playoff contender entering the weekend. Blowout wins over Central Connecticut State and Norfolk State had proven little, and memories lingered of the final two games of last season, when the Tribe was unable to rise to the level of national title contenders Richmond and James Madison.

But Saturday night, against a Delaware team that had taken no. 1 Richmond to the brink two weeks earlier, the Tribe left no doubt. Despite being picked to finish fifth in the loaded CAA South — behind Delaware, no less — the College established itself as one of the unquestioned top teams in the nation with a dominating performance.

“We took it upon ourselves to make it a statement game,” senior defensive end Adrian Tracy said.

It took only eight minutes for that statement to ring through loud and clear. Midway through the first quarter, senior quarterback R.J. Archer dropped back from his own nine-yard line and fired a strike to junior wideout Chase Hill near midfield. Hill outraced his defender to the end zone, and the 91-yard score — the longest pass play in Tribe history — gave the College an early lead that would never truly be threatened.

When the game ended, the Blue Hens had managed minus two rushing yards, and 13 of their 20 points came in the final three minutes of the game, after the outcome had long since been decided. The Tribe rolled up 458 yards of total offense, while forcing nine Delaware punts.

“We jumped on them with a couple scores that set the tone,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “We played hard.”

With the win against a team that many thought would be a playoff contender, the College substantiated its lofty no. 5 ranking.

And the scary thing for the rest of the CAA is that this team is still getting better.

That 91-yard, Archer-to-Hill touchdown was identical to a play run in the first half against Virginia. There, Archer rolled out to his right and found Hill had beaten his man downfield, only to heave it five yards over his head. Just three weeks later, the connection was seamless; Hill never broke stride as he hauled in the ball.

In his fifth career start, Archer was nearly perfect, completing 15 of 21 passes for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half alone.

“It’s only been four games, but I think I’ve grown a lot as a quarterback,” he said. “Each game, everything seems to slow down a little bit … That was one of the best defenses I think we’re going to see.”

A young offensive line that struggled early in the season was also impressive Saturday, keeping the Blue Hens without a sack and leading the way for 145 rushing yards. The Delaware defensive front four was touted as one of the best units in the country, but the College controlled the line of scrimmage all evening.

True to their word, the College made a statement this week. A win over Delaware was expected, but the dominant fashion in which it came will make the CAA — and the rest of the country — take notice.

The 4-0 start is the Tribe’s best since 1994, but, although early in the season, this squad just might be the best of Laycock’s 30-year career.

Now, it’s time to sit back and see how far they can go.

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