Blue Hens drop 8th straight to Villanova 55-33 in season finale

Senior QB Pat Kehoe completed 29-of-49 passes for 336 yards and two TDs in his final college game. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Over the last three season’s Delaware’s football program has beaten every CAA team expect two.

And, even against perennial national power James Madison, the Blue Hens have played some competitive football.

But then there’s Villanova.

In what was once a fierce rivalry, Delaware somehow managed to lose to the Wildcats for the eighth straight year and for the 13th time in the last 14 meetings on Saturday afternoon.

The Hens’ latest loss to Villanova was by a score of 55-33 in the regular-season finale for both squads.

That the Wildcats (5-3 CAA, 9-3 overall) beat Delaware (3-5 CAA, 5-7 overall) was hardly a surprise. Villanova has been nationally-ranked all year and will receive an NCAA FCS Division I playoff berth today.

But the fact that the Hens looked so helpless on defense was a bit shocking.

Villanova led by scores of 27-7 in the second quarter and 48-17 in the third. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on eight of their first 11 possessions and finished with their most points in the 53-game series.

“I’m really disappointed in how our team performed today,” said Delaware coach Danny Rocco, who suffered his first losing seasons in 14 years as a head coach. “Defensively, we really just had our finger in the dike the entire game. … They were extraordinarily efficient offensively. We really had a hard time getting any stops.

“I thought we had too many young players this year that faded as the year went on. They didn’t perform as well down the stretch as they may have performed halfway through the season. I said it’s going to be a very challenging winter because we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve got to get this right. Today was certainly not what it needs to be.”

Blue Hen receiver Gene Coleman pulled in eight catches for 104 yards and a TD against Villanova.

Villanova’s Changa Hodge put up four touchdowns and 236 receiving yards on eight catches. Only guys named Randy Moss and Wayne Chrebet have had more yards catching the ball against against Delaware.

Wildcat quarterback Daniel Smith was 17-of-24 for 378 yards with five TDs as Villanova totaled 589 yards and 30 first downs. The Wildcats faced just eight third downs in the contest.

“Defensively, a lot of the things we’re doing are things that I’ve done for years and have worked against this team,” said Rocco. “There’s some things we have to look at there. We’ve got to really take a hard look at our roster.

“When it was all said and done, we certainly did not put up much of a fight defensively today. That’s evidenced in the score, that’s evidenced in the flow of the game, evidenced in how easily they were able to get the ball in the end zone.”

“We really couldn’t stop them at all,” said junior cornerback Nijuel Hill.

Offensively, the Hens played reasonably well.

Senior quarterback Pat Kehoe, starting in place of injured starter Nolan Henderson (Smyrna), had one of the most productive games of his career. He completed 29-of-49 passes for 336 yards with two TDs and only one interception — on a deflected pass. He was also sacked just once.

Freshman running back Will Knight also had another good game. The former Smyrna High standout ran for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just nine carries while adding 39 more yards on two receptions.

It was Knight’s 68-yard sprint for a first-quarter touchdown that got Delaware within 14-7 and gave the Hens some life.

Delaware defensive end Brandan Hall tries to pressure Villianova QB Daniel Smith, who threw five touchdown passes.

Junior Gene Coleman also had a good day, collecting eight receptions for 104 yards with a TD. With 525 yards, Delaware finished with only 64 yards fewer than Villanova.

It was all just too little, too late.

“Our offense probably played well enough to make it a game,” said Rocco. “But they beat us to the punch.”

“We just didn’t quite weather the storm enough early,” said Kehoe. “At the end of the day, we didn’t score enough points. We needed to score 56 and we didn’t.”

Rocco didn’t have any concrete reason for the Hens’ recent struggles against Villanova. Those problems clearly started before the third-year head coach was hired.

But the Wildcats have also out-scored Delaware, 125-61, in the last three meetings.

“The only way for us to make it right is to win,” said Rocco. “We’ve got to win this game. I’ve felt this way for a couple years.
“My kids seem excited — they kind of want to fight. Their focus hasn’t been as much on winning the game as it’s been on competing and fighting. We’ve got to focus on winning the game. We’ve got to play better football so we can win the game.

“The only way to change the narrative is to win the game,” he added.

“I don’t think one person in that locker room could explain it,” said Kehoe. “We’ve just got to get back to work. We’re capable.”

“Obviously we’re going to have a bad taste in our mouths for months to come,” said Hill. “We’re going to just use this a motivation.”

Extra points

Delaware still holds the record for points scored in the series in its 59-42 win in 2000. …. Villanova’s previous series high were the 59 points it tallied in an overtime win over the Hens in 1999. … Senior kicker Jake Roth’s 42-yard field was the 13th of his career. … Safety Noah Plack had a team-high seven tackles.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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