Hens dominated by rival Villanova 28-7, playoffs uncertain

Delaware linebacker Troy Reeder closes in on Villanova linebacker Jack Schetelich in Saturday’s game. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

VILLANOVA, Pa. — This was supposed to be Delaware’s big chance to finally beat rival Villanova again.

And a victory might have even put the Blue Hens back in the NCAA FCS Division I football players for the first time in seven seasons.

But somebody forgot to tell the Wildcats.

It was struggling Villanova that came up with one of its best games of the season while resurgent Delaware never really showed up, falling to the Wildcats, 28-7, on a gloomy, drizzly Saturday afternoon at Villanova Stadium.

In ending the regular season at 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association, 7-4 overall, the Hens probably knocked themselves out of an NCAA at-large playoff berth — although their fate won’t be official until the FCS playoff bracket is announced today at 11 a.m.

More immediately, the loss was Delaware’s sixth in a row and 11th in the last 12 meetings with the Wildcats (3-5, 5-6) in the so-called ‘Battle of the Blue.’

“Nothing really went our way today,” said Hens’ coach Danny Rocco. “And I have no problem owning that. We didn’t get a break, didn’t get a bounce, didn’t really make a play until it was too late.

“I expected more. I’m disappointed.”

“I’m disappointed,” senior center Brody Kern said quietly. “Playing here for five years and never beating ‘Nova, is very, very frustrating.

“When it came down to it, I thought they had more energy than us. That plays a big part — especially in this rivalry game. Records are thrown out the window. It’s Villanova and Delaware, it’s always a tough game no matter what our records are.”

Running back Kani Kane and the Hens finished with only 121 rushing yards as a team. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

The game went south on Delaware from the start of the contest.

After the Hens went three-and-out on theor first possession, Villanova quickly drove 87 yards in just eight plays to grab a 7-0 lead. The backbreaker, though, came three plays later.

That’s when Villanova linebacker Jeff Steeb intercepted a pass across the middle and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.

Suddenly, a Wildcat squad that had scored a total of just 28 points while losing its last four games owned a 14-0 lead less than eight minutes into the contest.

But Villanova did something pretty similar to start the third quarter. After going 63 yards on only three plays for one TD, another interception set up a fourth touchdown as the Wildcats’ advantage balooned to 28-0 with 7:07 still remaining in the third quarter.

“It’s just the reality of the game of football,” said Rocco. “Sometimes the team that doesn’t have as much on the line plays a little free-er, a little looser, they play up. They may have played one of their best games of the year. We did not.

“We just haven’t been starting well. And we did not start well today. Our ability to overcome that over the several weeks and months is really kind of extraordinary. Just today it was not going to happen.”

“I thought we could have and should have played better,” said junior linebacker Troy Reeder. “It’s disappointing the way it went.”

Even trailing only 14-0 in the second quarter, there some sense of desperation on the Hens’ part.

Delaware put together a 65-yard, 11-play drive just before halftime. On a fourth-and-five at the Villanova 18, The Hens were lined up to try a 35-yard field goal.

Instead, though, the Hens tried a fake, with holder/punter Nick Pritchard lobbing a pass for 6-foot-5 tight end Charles Scarff near the end zone. The Wildcats, however, were ready for the play with two defenders on Scarff to knock away the pass.

“I didn’t feel like we’d score a lot of points today,” Rocco explained. “I just felt that in that moment even a field goal still makes us have to score two touchdowns to take the lead.”

Delaware’s only touchdown came with 59 seconds left in the game, when quarterback J.P. Caruso (21-of-33, 197 yards, 2 interceptions) found receiver Jamie Jarmon on an 11-yard scoring pass. The TD capped off a 13-play, 95-yard march.

That drive also helped skew the final stats. The Hens finished with advantages of 336-322 in total yards and 18-16 in first downs but it didn’t do them any good.

How strongly the NCAA playoff committee wants to consider 7-4 Delaware remains to be seen but Rocco said he wasn’t optimistic.
“I hold little hope,” he said.

Reeder just hopes he and his teammates learn something from Saturday’s experience.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of winning around here as long as I’ve been here and before that,” said Reeder. “I think there’s an element to having to learn how to win that can really only be instilled by winning. I think we got a taste of winning this season.

“Had we won today we would have the amount of wins we had the last two seasons (combined). We beat Richmond, we lost to Towson. We beat Maine, beat Albany, we lose to ‘Nova — two pretty uncharacteristic games. This game probably wouldn’t have meant as much to us had we taken care of business earlier in the year.

“It’s unfortunate that the Towson game wasn’t enough for us to kind of realize not to get a big head and take care of business the same way every week. All I can hope is next season we’re able to do that.”

Extra points

Quarterback Joe Walker ran for a team-high 37 yards on nine carries. He also had three catches for 79 yards … Nose guard Bilal Nichols was ejected from the contest in the third quarter after an official ruled that the senior bumped a referee. … Safety Nasir Adderley had a team-high 12 tackles with senior Blaine Woodson adding 11. … Villanova completed only 5-of-8 passes for 61 yards. Running back Aaron Forbes carried most of the offense, finishing with 140 yards on 13 carries. … Senior receiver Diante Cherry didn’t play in the game.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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