GREATEST MOMENTS | Delaware dominated in run to I-AA championship in 2003


Delaware-greatestTwo former Delaware quarterbacks have started a Super Bowl, three others were drafted by NFL teams and a sixth signed as an undrafted free agent.

But only one led the Blue Hens to their only national championship in NCAA Division I-AA, now the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

And Andy Hall did it in 2003 with a separated shoulder.

Hall, a Georgia Tech transfer, led the Blue Hens to a 9-0 start that season, outscoring opponents 276-100 in the first seven games. That included a 1-point victory at New Hampshire in Week 6 when the Wildcats missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt with nine seconds remaining.

Two weeks later, Delaware stunned Navy 21-17 in Annapolis, Md. The Midshipmen, who finished 8-5 with an appearance in the Houston Bowl, jumped to 14-0 lead. But a fake punt turned the game around and the Blue Hens rallied to win.

The excitement was just beginning.

They beat Maine 24-21 in overtime, lost 24-14 at Northeastern, beat No. 3 Massachusetts 51-45 in triple overtime and completed the regular season with a 20-17 victory at Villanova.

Then came the playoffs. After winning four of its last five games by an average of four points, Delaware dominated. The Blue Hens outscored opponents 149-23 in four playoff games,  including the most lopsided victory in Division I-AA championship game history.

“In the playoffs, we showed we were the best team in the country,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “We really dominated.”

Hall, playing with three torn ligaments in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, directed an offense featuring running backs Germaine Bennett and Antawn Jenkins that rolled to the championship game.

No. 3-ranked Delaware beat No. 4 Southern Illinois 48–7, No. 7 Northern Iowa 37–7 and No. 2 Wofford 24–9. Bennett rushed for 430 yards in the three wins.

But the Blue Hens saved their best for last, beating undefeated Colgate 40-0 in the championship game on Dec. 19, 2003 — the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.

“This … is what your career is all about,” Keeler said after the game. “You have that ring. That’s how you’re recognized.”

It was the sixth national championship in Delaware football’s 117-year history, but its first in Division I. The Blue Hens also won in 1946 (AP College Division), 1963 (UPI College Division), 1971 (AP/UPI College Division), 1972 (AP/UPI College Division) and 1979 (Division II).

Delaware’s defense shut down Jamaal Branch, the Walter Payton Award winner presented to the best offensive player in FCS, and Colgate’s offense. The Blue Hens held Branch to 55 yards on 20 carries, ended the Raiders’ 21-game winning streak and recorded the first shutout in 26 years of I-AA championship history.

Meanwhile, Bennett and Jenkins combined for 115 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries while Hall passed for 183 yards and two touchdowns. The Blue Hens piled up 348 yards of total offense. Delaware’s domination complete, Hall came out of the game with more than 10 minutes remaining.

“When he’s got everything going, he’s the best player in the country,” Keeler said after the game. “If Andy Hall had been healthy (all season), we would have dominated more.”

As it was, Hall completed 62% of his passes for 2,764 yards and 25 touchdowns as the Blue Hens finished 15-1, a school record for games and victories. He also ran for 710 yards and eight touchdowns and finished fifth on the school’s all-time list with 6,169 total yards.

“This is what you dream about, to finish on top,” Hall said after the game. “I feel like Michael Jordan.”

• Delaware Athletics Hall of Fame

Above: Delaware celebrates a 40-0 victory against Colgate in the 2003 NCAA Division I-AA championship game. (Courtesy University of Delaware Archives)

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Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.