Top-Ranked Blue Hens Rally Back From Early Deficit But Fall to #15 Villanova 28-21 in OT; Await NCAA Tournament Bid Sunday
November 20, 2010
Photos top to bottom: Rob Jones, Pat Devlin, Nihja White (Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell)
NEWARK, Del. -- The top-ranked University of Delaware football team is most certainly headed back to the NCAA Tournament later this month, but the Blue Hens were far from festive Saturday afternoon at Delaware Stadium.
The Blue Hens, who were counting on a victory over longtime rival and No. 15 ranked Villanova to sew up the top seed in the 20-team field that will be announced Sunday morning, got heartache instead as Delaware dropped a 28-21 Colonial Athletic Association verdict before a enthusiastic sellout crowd of 22,891.
Delaware (9-2, 6-2 CAA) fought back from a two-touchdown deficit in the first five minutes of play and sent the game into overtime on a touchdown in the final seconds of regulation, but Villanova scored on its first possession of the extra session to take the lead and Hens’ hopes were dashed when freshman Andrew Pierce was stripped of the ball on the one-yard line and the Wildcats Martel Moody recovered the fumble to end the game.
“I was proud of the way we weathered the storm today and got back into the game,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, whose squad will most likely receive one of 12 first round byes in the tournament. “But you just can’t turn and ball over and that killed us. Give Villanova a lot of credit because they are a very good team, but I’m just disappointed that we needed one more play and couldn’t get it. Going 9-2 in this league (CAA) is pretty special. This hurts now, but we will get back at it tomorrow and get ready for the post-season. We will put this behind us and move on.”
The Blue Hens, who captured the 2003 national title, will return to post-season action for first time since 2007 when Delaware advanced to the NCAA title game. They will have to do so without the momentum of a two-game win streak and a seven-game home winning streak that were snapped Saturday night. The Hens also lost to the Villanova for the fifth straight time and fell short in securing the Battle of the Blue Trophy for the first time since the award was introduced in 2007.
William & Mary, which handed the Hens their only other loss this season with a 17-16 decision back on Oct. 3, defeated Richmond 41-3 Saturday to share the CAA title with Delaware. The Tribe earned the automatic NCAA Tournament berth by virtue of that regular season win over the Blue Hens.
Delaware senior quarterback Pat Devlin, a candidate for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Walter Payton National Player of the Year Award, enjoyed yet another impressive showing as he completed 30 of 45 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring strikes of 18 yards to Nihja White and nine yards to Rob Jones in the first half and a one-yard toss to Pierce with 18 seconds left in regulation that tied the score at 21-21 and sent the game into an extra session - the Hens’ first overtime appearance since a 62-56 five overtime setback to Richmond in 2007.
Villanova (7-4, 5-3 CAA), the defending national champion, snapped a two-game losing streak and most likely assured themselves of a spot in the NCAA Division I Tournament. Quarterback Chris Whitney completed 14 of 19 passes for 150 yards, hitting TB Lawrence Doss on a four-yard toss to up the Villanova lead to 14-0 early in the first quarter and running eight yards for a score with 11:35 left in the fourth quarter to give Villanova a 21-14 advantage.
Angelo Babbaro set the tone when he returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and Aaron Ball scored what proved to be the game-winner for Villanova when he leaped over a pile of bodies and into the end zone from one-yard out on the Wildcats first possession.
Delaware had the chance to send the game into a second overtime but came up short. Devlin moved the Hens into scoring position after hitting Phillip Thaxton for six yards, Pierce for eight, and Tommy Crosby for eight more down to the two-yard line. Pierce ran up the middle on the next play but was stripped of the ball while fighting for extra yards and Moody fell on the ball to end the game.
“I’m not sure we can play any better,” said Villanova head coach Andy Talley, whose team pulled out several trick plays and also got a big boost with the return of 2009 CAA Player of the Year Matt Szczur who had missed the last six games with an ankle injury. “We gave everything we had and they (Delaware) gave us everything they had.”
Delaware, which had outscored opponents 81-10 in the first quarter of action this season and entered the game leading the CAA in scoring offense and defense and in total offense and defense, found itself in a strange position Saturday. The Blue Hens fell behind 14-0 - the team’s largest deficit of the season - as Babbaro returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a score, racing down the middle and outrunning a host of UD defenders down the left sideline. The Wildcats then came right back to go up 14-0 with 9:41 left in the quarter on a four-yard scoring pass from Whitney to Doss. Whitney found Doss wide open in the end zone after the VU signal caller handed the ball off to Babbaro, who then underhanded it back to Whitney.
But the Blue Hens came back to knot the score at 14-14 and get back in the game. Delaware drove 77 yards on just eight plays and got on the board when Devlin hit Nihja White across the middle in traffic in the end zone with 12:31 left in the half. After both teams traded punts, the Hens drove 80 yards on 13 plays and knotted the score at 14-14 with just 1:15 left when Devin hit Jones in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Villanova had the chance to take a lead into intermission, but kicker Mark Hamilton’s 27-yard field goal hit the top of the right pole and bounced away to end the half.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Villanova regained the lead when the Wildcats drove 77 yards in a span of 7:43 to go up 21-14 on an eight-yard Whitney rollout for a score.
Delaware then sent the game into the overtime as the Blue Hens drove 77 yards in 6:56 and knotted the score at 21-21 on a one-yard touchdown pass from Devlin to Pierce out of the back field with just 18.9 seconds left to play.
Blue Hen Scratchings... The Senior Day and Hall of Fame Day attendance of 22,891 was the seventh largest in Delaware history, the most ever against Villanova, and the highest since the 1992 season...Delaware now finishes the regular season with an average attendance of 20,684, marking the Hens’ NCAA Division I FCS-leading streak of 12 straight seasons of drawing more than 20,000 fans per game...the Hens’ seven-game home winning streak was its longest since 2004-05...White extended his team-leading pass catching streak to 19 straight games for Delaware...Delaware is now 4-2 vs. Top 25 opponents this season...Devlin upped his career passing yardage total to 4,802 to move past Andy Hall into sixth place on the UD all-time passing list...Delaware honored its 21 seniors prior to the game.