Maybe there’s hope for Hens despite another tough loss to Villanova

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Dave Brock has said all along he thinks he has the makings of a good football team.

In an uneven opening two weeks for Delaware, however, the third-year coach might not have gotten everyone to agree with him.

But that perception might have changed a little on Saturday when the Blue Hens stood toe-to-toe with No. 6 Villanova before the rival Wildcats finally pulled out a 28-21 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Delaware before a crowd of 11,779 at Villanova Stadium.

The game followed an all-too-familiar script for the Hens (0-1 CAA, 1-2 overall), who have now lost three straight heartbreakers to the rival Wildcats (1-0, 2-1).

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Thomas Jefferson scores on a 23-yard run early in the fourth quarter as Delaware took a 21-14 lead. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell).

This time Villanova scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 6:18 — after losing star quarterback John Robertson to a knee injury — to overcome a 21-14 deficit.

The big difference this time, though, was that the last two losses to Villanova came in the final game of the season. This one came in September where Delaware still has much of its schedule left to build off this performance.

“Obviously, it was an excruciating loss,” said UD coach Dave Brock. “I feel for the men in that locker room. They played their hearts out and gave everything they had. They played really, really hard.

“I’m very, very proud of the players in that locker room. But we have to find a way to finish with the lead in the fourth quarter.”

While Robertson, last year’s Payton Award winner as the country’s best player in FCS Division I, finishes his career 4-0 against Delaware, he wasn’t the hero on Saturday.

The senior quarterback fell awkwardly while scrambling at the Hens’ six with 6:38 remaining. The initial diagnosis was that he tore his PCL, an injury that would probably allow him to return to the field this season.

In his place, redshirt freshman Zach Bednarczyk stepped in and threw a six-yard TD pass to Kevin Gulyas – on a fourth-and-four — with 6:18 on the clock. Villanova, however, missed the PAT kick, leaving Delaware with a 21-20 lead.

Bednarczyk and the Wildcats, though, got another chance at their own 26 with 4:47 remaining.

This time the lefthander led Villanova on a six-play, 74-yard drive for the winning touchdown.

He completed three-of-four passes for 51 yards before breaking off a 21-yard scoring run with 2:35 left. Bednarczyk also added the two-point conversion as the Wildcats posted their 28-21 lead.

“The backup kid broke contain and we overran him,” Brock explained about the TD run. “Then he cut back and made a good run. … Those kids on defense played their hearts out the entire game.”

The Hens did have one last possession, but it started at their own 14 with just 2:30 remaining. Delaware got to the 40 when QB Joe Walker hit receiver Diante Cherry on a fourth-and-five.

With no timeouts remaining, however, the drive finally stalled on back-to-back sacks and then an interception on a desperation pass with only 25 seconds on the clock.

Still, in just the second start of his career, Walker looked up to the task of competing in a big game. The redshirt freshman completed 13-of-28 passes for 94 yards and had two well-thrown balls dropped — both of which would been first downs — on the Hens’ last-gasp drive.

Walker also ran for 67 yards on 17 carries before netting 48 yards when sacks were added in. On one memorable fourth-quarter run, he picked up 16 yards on a third down, running smack into a Villanova defender and knocking him back at the end.

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Delaware’s Larry Spears tackles Villanova QB John Robertson in Saturday’s loss. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell).

For the second straight week, Brock did not make Walker available for interviews after the contest.

“I think you saw the competitor in him for the first time in his career,” said Brock. “He put his shoulder down and went and got it. That’s a little bit of who he is. That’s a little bit of who we see on a daily basis. But he’s got to be better. … Everybody’s got to be better.”

Besides the loss itself, the other big loss for Delaware on Saturday was running back Jalen Randolph suffering what might be a serious leg injury. Brock, who doesn’t go into much detail about his players’ injuries, said only that he doesn’t expect Randolph to be available “in the near future.”

Randolph ran for a game-high 84 yards and a TD on 14 carries before the injury. The Hens, of course, have already lost their other top running back, Wes Hills, to a season-ending foot injury.

Redshirt freshman Thomas Jefferson helped pick up the slack on Saturday, running for 34 yards on five carries. Jefferson got loose on a 23-yard touchdown run with 10:58 left to give Delaware its 21-14 lead.

The Hens outgained Villanova 205 yards to 90 on the ground.

“I knew it was not going to be a quick-hitting play, you have to just wait and find that one crease that opens up,” Jefferson said about his scoring run. “It was just magic. Coming off the field, it felt great. We had a lot of momentum. Everyone was ready.

“Jalen’s like a big brother to me,” Jefferson added. “Seeing him go down, I knew we just had to play for him.”

Considering Delaware plays at North Carolina next Saturday, it might be difficult for the Hens to hang on to any momentum from this performance. Only time will tell where they go next, though.

“I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my guys,” said senior defensive tackle David Tinsley. “We went out there and gave it all we had. That’s all you can ask for. Just looking for the improvement from last week to this week … you see two totally different teams.

“This game, we didn’t get the result that we wanted. But we put something on film we can build off of.”

Extra points

Delaware held on to the ball for 12:14 in the third quarter, allowing the Wildcats to run just eight plays with no first downs in the period. … For the game, Delaware held an 11-minute edge in time of possession, running 23 more plays than Villanova. But the Wildcats held a 355-299 advantage in total yards. … Cherry had 78 yards on eight receptions while also diving in at the pylon for a two-point conversion after Delaware’s last TD. … Robertson completed 14-of-24 passes for 208 yards with a TD while also netting 23 yards on 11 carries. … Linebacker Anthony Jackson and cornerback Justin Watson each had a team-high six tackles for the Hens … The full extent of Robertson’s knee injury won’t be known until he has an MRI on Monday. … Villanova leads the all-time series 27-21-1 after winning for the ninth time in the last 10 meetings.

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap.com.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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