When wide receiver Justin Wilson, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s preseason player of the year, went down with a high-ankle sprain in Week 2, Delaware State lost most of its offense — and every game since. That four-game slide began with ugly losses against Delaware and South Carolina State by a combined 114-0. Next came a 34-7 pasting from Florida A&M, as the Wilson-less Delaware State put up just 377 total yards through next three games.
Delaware State coach Kermit Blount, in his first-year after a long stint at Winston-Salem State, remained upbeat: “This is a life lesson for these young men that I’m coaching,” he told St. Clair Murraine of the Tallahassee Democrat. “Life is never easy and it’s never always a good day or bad day. You just have to make the best of it. They’re not going to quit so we are going to deal with the bumps in the road.”
Even so, there was clearly something missing. And that thing might just have been Wilson: He returned last week, and though Delaware State (2-4, 0-3 MEAC) fell 38-21 to Norfolk State, Hornets quarterback Nick Elko connected for a career-high 339 yards. Wilson also set a career mark with 10 receptions, piling up 118 yards and a touchdown.
This team is, of course, far from back on track. After all, the Hornets lost in the end. Too, they are traveling this week to face a resurgent North Carolina A&T under first-year coach Rod Broadway, who has led the team to an undefeated start in league play that includes an impressive 22-3 win last week over reigning MEAC co-champion Bethune-Cookman.
The Bethune game, actually, wasn’t even as close as the score indicates, as A&T (3-2, 2-0) recovered three fumbles, intercepted a pass, recorded a safety and held the Wildcats to 5 yards rushing. North Carolina A&T hadn’t scored back-to-back conference wins since November 2003, and hadn’t beaten Bethune-Cookman in its last seven tries.
And, whatever Wilson is able to accomplish against those Aggies, Delaware State will simply have to get better on defense. Going into the FAMU game, this group had given up 11 touchdowns, including 10 on the ground, to fall to last in the 11-team MEAC. And we all know what happened next.
Still, Wilson’s return could be the rising tide that lifts all boats. After all, in one game, Delaware State put up 23 more passing yards than the Hornets had in consecutive losses to Delaware, South Carolina State and Florida A&M … combined.