Hens to take their shot at ending Villanova streak

Smyrna High grad Will Knight was named the CAA Rookie of the Week for his performance against Stony Brook. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Danny Rocco has a tradition he calls the ‘Senior Gauntlet.’

Every year, on the Thursday practice before his team’s last regular-season game, the Delaware football coach has his seniors walk through a line of their teammates.

There’s usually a lot of hugs and handshakes but often the feeling that the season might not be over yet.

“The most common rhetoric is always, ‘Let’s keep rolling, let’s finish strong, let’s extend the season,’” said, Rocco, who’s in his 14th season as a head coach. “But this it. It’s over.”

Indeed, there clearly is no chance of the Blue Hens (3-4 CAA, 5-6 overall) making the NCAA FCS Division I playoffs. They finish up at No. 10 Villanova (4-3 CAA, 8-3 overall) with a 1 p.m. contest on Saturday.

That gives the whole week an air of finality for Delaware.

“It will be the last game for a number of really good, quality student-athletes who have contributed an awful lot here to our program,” said Rocco. “We’re going to go up there and fight and do everything we can to find a way to win.

Senior QB Pat Kehoe is expected to start in Saturday’s season finale at Villanova. ( Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

“The 60 minutes of football are even that much more meaningful to this team because of the finality of it.”

But, as disappointing as it is not to be going back to the playoffs for a second straight year, the Hens also realize that Saturday’s game is a big opportunity for them to change how this season is remembered.

The hard truth is that Delaware has lost seven straight games to the rival Wildcats. Ending that streak — not to mention finishing at .500 — would go a long way toward sending a young squad into the off-season feeling good about itself.

“It’s bigger than just this game,” said freshman linebacker Anthony Toro. “It’s our rivalry, it’s our past. We’re definitely going to take this week to a whole new level. This game definitely does feel like a bowl game.”

“There’s a lot to accomplish for the team, honestly,” said freshman running back Will Knight (Smyrna). “We look forward to being as successful as possible and getting to our goals. We still have a lot left on the line.

“Coaches say that every day and we live by that. We’re just going to keep focusing on the important things and try to get this win on Saturday.”

While it might be difficult for Delaware to completely knock Villanova out of the playoffs, the Hens could certainly damage the Wildcats’ seeding with an upset.

It would be returning the favor to a Villanova squad that knocked Delaware out of the playoffs with a win in the season finale two years ago.

“We want to win because we want our student-athletes to finish with a good taste, finish feeling good about what they’ve done and finish being able to celebrate victory,” said Rocco.

“The thought of winning on Saturday and the thought of being the team that ends that (losing streak to Villanova) is a significant opportunity,” he added.

Henderson probably out

Delaware doesn’t expect to have starting quarterback Nolan Henderson available on Saturday.

The Smyrna High grad suffered a hip injury early in last Saturday’s 17-10 win over Stony Brook.

Henderson was still undergoing tests on Monday but Rocco said he’s planning on starting senior Pat Kehoe at QB.

It was something of a strange injury for Henderson, who was running with the ball when he fell on the out-stretched foot of one of his offensive lineman.

Senior center Mario Farinella, a sixth-year senior came out on the same play with a hand injury. He’s slated to have surgery today and won’t be available against Villanova.

Sophomore Mickey Henry, whose right hand is in a cast, will start at center.

“It’s about as odd as anything can be,” Rocco said about the way Henderson got injured. “He and Mario both came to the sidelines at the same time. Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up. It just kind of happens.”

Kehoe has had his own issues with injuries over the past two seasons — as well as being replaced by Henderson as the starter. But, one of the team captains, the senior seems to have weathered the ups and downs.

This will be Kehoe’s sixth start of the season.

“This year has been hard for Pat,” said Rocco. “(But) he’s never lost his focus, he’s never lost his desire to win. We really need him to be at his best this week.”

“Even when he wasn’t the starter, he still contributed to the team and tried to help as best as possible,” Knight said about Kehoe. “You’ve never seen a sign of anger or anything coming from him. I have a lot of respect for Pat Kehoe.’

Knight time

Knight was named the CAA Rookie of the Week after running for 108 yards and the winning touchdown against Stony Brook.

It was the first CAA honor of the former Smyrna High star’s career.

With 830 rushing yards for the season, Knight is third on the school’s all-time rushing list for a freshman. Next up is Thomas Jefferson, who had 890 in 2015.

Knight is also second in the CAA in rushing at 75.5 yards per game. Only Albany’s Karl Mofor (93.5 ypg) is ahead of him.

“Will has quietly found himself near the top of the league in rushing,” said Rocco. “And he did it in a very steady, journeyman kind of way — not being featured early, picking up the season went on and then being at his best here at the end.

“He wants to prove daily that he is here to make this place special. He resonates with that. That’s really cool. … He’s a mature, thoughtful human being.”

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