Delaware Finally Gets Battle of the Blue Victory, Downs Villanova 26-16 to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive
Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell
CHESTER, Pa. -- A long-awaited and hard-fought victory over rival Villanova in hand, the University of Delaware football squad now turns its attention to a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
The No. 15 ranked Blue Hens (7-4, 5-3 Colonial Athletic Association) snapped a personal five-game losing streak to the Wildcats Saturday night at PPL Park as Sean Baner kicked a school-record tying four field goals and safety Ricky Tunstall (at right) put the game away with a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:28 left to play in a 26-16 victory.
Delaware, which won its third straight game to close out the regular season, now turn its sights to an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The 20-team field will be announced Sunday at 10 a.m. and the Hens, last year's national runner-up, hope to see their name called.
On this night though, it was all about a big victory over a long-time rival as the Hens knocked off a struggling Villanova (2-9, 1-7 CAA) squad for the first time since 2005 to secure the Battle of the Blue trophy for the first time since it was introduced in 2006.
"It was an emotional win and now all we can do is enjoy it and wait to see what happens on Sunday" said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler. "Our guys are relieved to finally beat this team. Nothing got us down tonight. We just went out and played and kept our chins up the entire time. It's nice to get this win. I think we are one of the top 20 teams in the country."
The game, the first American football game played at the two-year old stadium which serves as the home for Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union, featured two ties and four lead changes. An enthusiastic crowd of 14,107, fitting of one of the top rivalries in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, enjoyed every second of it.
After Villanova scored its final points on a 43-yard scamper by Jamal Abdur-Rahman with 5:37 left in the third quarter, Delaware reeled off the final 13 points of the game to go home winners.
Baner (at left), who tied his own school record of four field goals set against Old Dominion back in September, connected on a 40-yarder with 8:45 left to tie the score at 16-16 and followed with eventual game-winner with a 29-yard kick with 2:11 left to put the Hens up 19-16.
On the first kick, the Hens extended the drive by converting four third down attempts, including a 20-yard toss from quarterback Tim Donnelly to tight end Ryan Cobb down to the Villanova 27-yard line.
A 24-yard punt return by Rob Jones to the Delaware 49-yard line and a pair of 12-yard tosses from Donnelly to Jones and Nihja White keyed the second Baner kick.
"Coach Keeler had faith in me that I could make the kick," said Baner of the game-winner. "I wasn't nervous, but I don't know why. I should have been. I just tried to stay calm and keep my head down. I looked up and saw it go through (the uprights) and was so happy."
Villanova had one last chance to win the game, but Tunstall stepped in front of a pass by Chris Polony and sprinted 54 yards down the right sideline and into the touchdown with 1:28 left to put an exclamation point on the victory.
Tunstall, who also intercepted a first-half pass in the end zone to thwart a Villanova drive, now has four interceptions in his last two games.
"The defense knew that we just had to go out there and get another stop, or get another interception," stated Tunstall, who has helped the Hens force 10 turnovers during the season-ending three-game win streak.
Delaware held a big advantages in first downs (21-14) and held the ball for almost 20 minutes longer than Villanova. And gaining three turnovers didn't hurt either.
Blue Hen sophomore Travis Hawkins returned the opening kickoff 69 yards to set up a 26-yard Baner field goal and the Hens were up 3-0 just under four minutes into the game.
Villanova came right back to take a 10-3 lead as Mark Hamilton connected on a 19-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter and Abdur-Rahman (119 yards rushing) got loose down the right sideline and scored on a 58-yard scamper with 13:20 left in the first half.
Another Baner field goal, this one from 34 yards out, cut the margin to 10-6 and the Hens took a 13-10 lead into the break when sophomore All-American running back Andrew Pierce (at right) leapt into the end zone from one-yard out with just 12 seconds left in the half.
The drive was set up by Tunstall's first interception of the night as he made a diving catch of a Polony pass in the end zone.
Pierce, who was a workhorse all night, carrying a career-high 40 times for 109 yards, ran the ball 13 times during the 80-yard drive, including nine straight lugs at one point. He surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the third straight game and for the eighth time this season, upping his two-year total to 15 100-yard rushing efforts.
"It doesn't matter to me how many times I carry it," said Pierce, who has carried the ball 108 times over the last three games. "I always give my offensive line the glory because they carried it 40 times with me. Whatever it takes to win. I felt like I was in a war tonight. I feel good that I was able to help carry my team to a win."
The Delaware lead did not last long though. Villanova regained the advantage at 16-13 early in the second half as Abur-Rahman broke off on another long run, darting 43 yards for the score. Defensive end Michael Atunrase (at left) blocked Hamilton's extra point attempt.
But that was the last time Villanova would get on the scoreboard as the Hen defense, led by two late sacks by Atunrase, kept the Wildcats in check and Baner and Tunstall added their late game heroics.
"We had lost five in a row to these guys and that had to stop," said Keeler. "We have both had some pretty good teams the last few years and last season we lost in overtime. I didn't talk a whole lot about it with the team, but I told them to just focus and do what we needed to do to win the game.
"We've done everything we can do," said Keeler regarding a possible NCAA Tournament bid. "We are ranked in the Top 15, we've won three straight, and we are the only team in the country that has beaten two Top 10 teams (Towson and Old Dominion). How can you leave us out." Football Story Archive