Villanova stands in Hens’ playoff path

Blue Hen linebacker Troy Reeder (right) and his younger brother, Colby, celebrate a fumble recovery against New Hampshire earlier this season. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — There’s a fine line between trying to play your best and trying to do too much.

Delaware, of course, would love to be at its best when it hosts Villanova in its regular-season finale on Saturday.

But the Blue Hens also know that trying to do more than just their job can get it in trouble in a rivalry game that — on paper — they know they’re supposed to win.

“You say you treat it like just another game,” said senior linebacker Troy Reeder. “(But) I think guys elevate their play in big moments, when it’s needed. I think that’s something that you don’t press for.

“You don’t go in saying, ‘I’m going to throw for 500 yards today because we’re playing Villanova.’ But it’s just something that you hope kind of happens and your best players step up to the moment. … You just hope everyone rises to the occasion.”

The bottom line is that the only way Delaware (5-2 CAA, 7-3 overall) controls its own destiny is by beating struggling Villanova (1-6 CAA, 4-6 overall) at home on Saturday at noon.

If that sounds like a familiar situation, it should. A year ago, the Hens faced pretty much the same challenge and were knocked off by the Wildcats, 28-7.

So Delaware will try it again on Saturday.

Really, the Hens are trying to end two painful streaks — they haven’t made the NCAA FCS Division I playoffs since 2010 and they’ve lost six in a row to the Wildcats.

Second-year Delaware coach Danny Rocco thinks Delaware is in good shape to make the playoffs even if it loses. But he also has no interest in leaving things to chance.

“Eight (wins) has always kind of been a magic number (for making the playoffs),” said Rocco. “(But) I do think there’ a reality that there will be teams in this league that will participate in the FCS playoffs with seven wins. No team in or league has eight yet.

“We really are positioned well. … I’m challenging my coaches and our players to really focus in on the passion, the energy and the enthusiasm that is part of college football and part of this game.”

Going into Saturday, first-place Maine (6-1 CAA, 7-3), which hosts Elon (4-2, 6-3) at noon, is the only team that can capture the CAA title outright with a victory.

But if the Black Bears lose, then it gets interesting.

Delaware, James Madison, Stony Brook and Towson are all 5-2 in the CAA, 7-3 overall. Towson and JMU play each other so one of them will get another loss.

Of the four tie-breaking scenarios involving the Hens, Delaware wins the league’s automatic playoff bid in three of them. And the Hens still have a chance in the fourth scenario but it would be decided by whichever team finishes highest in the Sagrin Ratings.

Of course the simplest scenario is for the Hens to just beat Villanova and finish 8-3.

“There’s no guarantee,” said Reeder. “Teams with seven wins make the playoffs. Teams with eight wins have a better chance.

“We’ve got to go out and play our game. We’re still getting better. We have yet to play a full, complete game. … This is the last one. We want to put our best product out there and, in doing so, have a couple more opportunities.”

Getting Kehoe back on track

There were a number of players who made mistakes in Delaware’s 17-3 loss at Stony Brook on Saturday.

Being the quarterback, though, Pat Kehoe was probably the most noticeable.

The junior completed only 9-of-27 passes for 103 yards with an interception. He was also sacked four times for losses of 34 yards.

Rocco said the biggest reason he named Kehoe the starter in preseason was because of his leadership abilities.

“What I need Pat to do is just to be that guy,” said Rocco. “For the reasons that went into making that decision in August, the biggest one was just his ability to lead and his ability to be front and center and play with poise and confidence. That was lacking a little bit on Saturday — for a lot of different reasons.”

Kehoe needs only 59 more passing yards to become the 13th UD player to throw for 2,000 in a season.

Kicking it around

The Hens also had some big problems with their field-goal kicking unit against Stony Brook.

Kicker Frank Raggo was just 1-of-3 on his attempts while a mishandled snap derailed another attempt without a kick.

Rocco said, in some cases, problems with the snaps threw off the timing. But he said everyone in the process shared some blame.

“I didn’t really feel that any of our specialists in that area were playing up to their ability,” said Rocco. “Everybody is accountable. ‘Do your job,’ is something we talk about all the time.”

Extra points

Delaware dropped six spots to No. 17 in Monday’s STATS FCS poll. The Hens are sixth in the rankings among CAA teams. … James Madison at No. 7 and Stony Brook at No. 10 are the top-rated squads from the conference. … Reeder has reached double digits in tackles six times this season. He’s the first Blue Hen since 2013 (Patrick Callaway) to collect over 100 in a season. … Nick Pritchard’s average of 42.6 yards per punt ranks first in the CAA.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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