Villanova Football Storms Back in Fourth Quarter To Stun Blue Hens, 35-34
CHESTER, Pa. -- Heartbreak hit the Blue Hens hard for the second straight week Saturday night.
This time the culprit was a familiar one and the stakes were even higher.
The University of Delaware, fighting to keep its NCAA football playoff hopes alive and needing a win over longtime rival Villanova to make it happen, surrendered a 22-point fourth quarter lead and fell to the Wildcats 35-34 in the annual Battle of the Blue game at PPL Park.
Villanova kicker Mark Hamilton booted his third field goal of the game, a 24-yard chip shot with just one second left to play, to lift the Wildcats to the season-ending Colonial Athletic Association victory.
It marked the second straight week that the Hens have fallen in the final moments after dropping a 46-43 verdict at home to Richmond at Delaware Stadium last Saturday.
The Blue Hens (7-5, 4-4 CAA) led 34-12 with eight minutes left to play but Villanova (6-5, 4-4 CAA) stormed back with 23 points down the stretch to earn the victory in this wild neighborhood series that began in 1895 and has taken place every year since 1988. Since 1988, 11 of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
The Wildcats have now defeated the Hens seven times in the last eight meetings and the 22-point comeback was the second largest ever allowed by a Delaware team in the fourth quarter. Villanova rallied from a 33-7 fourth quarter deficit in the 1969 game to stun the Hens 36-33.
"Give the credit to Villanova, they found a way to make one more play tonight," said Delaware head coach Dave Brock, whose seven wins is the most ever by a first-year Blue Hen head coach. "My heart breaks for our kids.They gave it everything they had and they didn't leave anything out on that field tonight. We just have to find a way to win these games."
Delaware appeared to have the game in-hand thanks to a 20-point third quarter that saw the Hens move away from a 14-9 lead and go up 34-12.
The first half lead was built thanks to a 12-yard scoring pass from Trent Hurley (at left) to Michael Johnson three minutes in and on a 13-yard scoring pass from wide receiver Rob Jones off a fake to a wide-open Hurley five miniutes later.
Jerel Harrison scored on an eight-yard end-around four minutes into the second half, Hurley hit Michael Johnson on a 22-yard scoring pass down the left side with 5:16 left in the third stanza, and Andrew Pierce's 10-yard dash into the end zone with 1:24 left in the frame upped the lead to 34-12.
But as fans who follow this series are well aware, no lead is ever safe when Delaware and Villanova get together.
Villanova quarterback John Robertson, a candidate for national Player of the Year honors who finished the night throwing for 252 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 165 yards and a score, started the comeback midway through the final stanza.
He hit Joe Price on scoring passes of 11 and 21 yards five minutes apart and then found Gary Underwood in the flat for a 25-yard scoring pass to narrow the lead to 34-32 with 1:45 left in the game.
Delaware was able to maintain the two-point lead when Robertson was harassed on a two-point conversion try and his pass attempt in the end zone fell incomplete.
However, the Wildcats found a way to get the ball back for what proved to be the winning drive. Villanova kicker Chris Gough recovered his own onsides kick, giving VU possession at the 46-yard line. Roberts then completed two passes for 21 yards to Poppy Livers and ran four times for 17 yards to set up Hamilton's winning kick.
Hurley, who finished the day surpassing the 2,000-yard passing mark for the season and the 4,000-yard plateau for his career, hit on 19 of 26 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns and even caught a scoring pass on a 13-yard fake from senior wide receiver Rob Jones.
Johnson, a junior who also caught a first-half touchdown, hauled in eight passes for 127 yards and reached the 100-catch and 1,000-yard receiving milestones for his career.
Harrison led the Hens with 59 yards rushing while Pierce, a two-time All-American, finished his career by running for 51 yards on 13 carries. He set a school record for career carries with 930, breaking the mark of 925 by Omar Cuff in 2004-07 and finished his career with 4,459 yards rushing, No. 2 all-time in Delaware history.
Defensively for the Hens, Travis Hawkins collected a team-high 11 tackles and intercepted a pass that set up a third quarter touchdown. Patrick Callaway added nine tackles while Derrick Saulsberry (above right) had two sacks.
• Delaware allowed 626 total yards to Villanova, the fifth largest total allowed in school history• Johnson extended his pass-catching streak to 24 straight games
• The game was only the second football game played at PPL Park, the home of the MLS Philadelphia Union. Delaware defeated Villanova 26-16 in the first game played here in 2011
• Blue Hen redshirt freshman punter Eric Enderson averaged 48.7 yards on seven punts, including a 68-yarder. He finished the season with an average of 45.1, shattering the UD record of 42.8 by Gene Vadas in 1991