Blue Hens pounded by Villanova 42-21, await tournament bracket today

Blue Hen safety Nasir Adderley, who had a game-high 11 tackles, celebrates a play with teammate Justis Henley on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — For the first time in three months, Villanova looked like the football team that toppled Temple in its season opener.

And it came just in time for the Wildcats to handle Delaware.

Of course.

In what is becoming an all-too familiar nightmare for Blue Hen fans, Villanova rose to the challenge and Delaware didn’t as the Wildcats dumped the No. 17 Hens, 42-21, in the regular-season finale before a crowd of 18,752 at Delaware Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

For Villanova (2-6 CAA, 5-6 overall), it was its seventh-straight win in the series — the longest for either team in the 52-game rivalry — and its 11th victory over Delaware (5-3 CAA, 7-4 overall) in the last 12 meetings.

The only lingering question is whether the Hens’ resume is good enough to get them in the NCAA FCS Division I playoffs for the first time since 2010. The 24-team bracket is slated to be revealed today starting at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

What was pretty clear on Saturday afternoon, though, was the fact that Delaware got out-played again by the Wildcats.

“Defensively I never felt like we were able to get stops when we needed to get stops,” said Blue Hens coach Danny Rocco. “And, for all the things that may have happened out there today, that’s probably the most disappointing — even disturbing thing — for me. We just were unable to get off the field when we had to get off the field.

“I’m very disappointed,” he added. “I’m very humbled by the result.”

Villanova out-gained the Hens 459 yards to 344. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that senior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (12-for-22 for 269 yards, 1 TD) was back on the field after missing three of four games with an injury in mid-season.

Delaware receiver Joe Walker looks back at Villanova defender Nowoola Awapetu as he crosses thee goal line on a 43-yard TD catch. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Coach Mark Ferrante said Villanova had 21 of its original 22 starters on Saturday — the most its had since the third week of the season.

“Especially after the Temple game, I had high hopes for our offense,” said Bednarczyk. “But things didn’t go according to plan. I think we showed what we were capable of all year.”

“The quarterback’s the guy that makes that offense go,” said Hens’ senior linebacker Charles Bell. “And probably one of the best games he played was against us today.”

On the other hand, Delaware lost its starting QB, Pat Kehoe, to a concussion less than 10 minutes into the contest. Rocco also revealed that Kehoe has been playing with a partially torn knee ligament for the past couple weeks.

The Hens then went with former Smyrna High standout Nolan Henderson. But the redshirt freshman, who was seeing his first real collegiate action, left the game after taking a hard hit the second quarter.

Delaware did have some success with senior J.P. Caruso in the second quarter before Henderson returned and played the whole second half. He completed 12-of-22 passes for 152 yards with a touchdown and also gained 58 yards on 10 carries.

But Henderson, who was sacked four times, also lost 22 yards as well as a fumble.

Freshman Nolan Henderson, the former Smyrna High standout, saw his first significant college action on Saturday. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“I thought he responded admirably,” said Rocco. “To be quite frank, he gave us a chance. That’s why I’m disappointed in our defense.”

Henderson’s highlight came when he fired a 43-yard strike to receiver Joe Walker for a TD with 2:56 left in the third quarter. The touchdown pulled Delaware within 28-21.

The Wildcats, however, responded with a 75-yard scoring drive that took just eight plays and 3:40. It pushed Villanova’s advantage to 35-21 with 14:16 remaining.

“I just tried to go in there and make plays, be myself and try not to think too much,” said Henderson. “At first I felt a little out of sorts. But I feel like I settled down a little bit and got to what makes me, me.

“Throwing that ball (to Walker) and making it a one-score game, I felt like it rejuvenated our sideline. It felt like it gave us enough momentum to get back in the game. But we didn’t make enough plays at the end.”

The day actually got off to a good start when DeJoun Lee broke off a 38-yard scoring run to give the Hens a quick 7-0 lead. Lee, who started in place of the injured Kani Kane, finished with 98 yards and two TDs on 14 carries.

But Villanova’s Aaron Forbes was even better, running for 138 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. The senior totaled 278 rushing yards in his last two games against Delaware.

Now all the Hens can do is wait until the NCAA playoff bracket is revealed to see if their season is over or not.

Rocco said again on Saturday that he thinks there are 7-4 teams from the CAA who will make the field. Regular-season champion Maine and James Madison,,both 8-3, are locks.

Stony Brook, Delaware and Towson are all 7-4 and all went 1-1 against each other.

“A team in this league that’s 5-3 (in the CAA) or 7-4 is worthy of strong consideration,” said Rocco. “And if the (overall) pool is not real strong, then I don’t know how you turn away multiple teams from our league that are 7-4.”

Extra points

The Hens have posted back-to-back seven-win seasons for the first time since 2011. … Delaware turned the ball over four times in the game to none for the Wildcats. … Kane did see action as a blocker but didn’t carry the ball on Saturday. … Walker finished with 108 yards on five receptions. … Safety Nasir Adderley collected a team-high 11 tackles. … Charles Scarff has 40 catches this season, the most for a Delaware tight end since current Baltimore Raven Nick Boyle had 42 in 2013.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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