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  • Rock Hoffman




VILLANOVA - That the game was played on April 17 and not November 17 and it was a cloudy spring day instead of a cold, windy fall day did little to quell the intensity of the Villanova-Delaware football game. In the end, the Blue Hens - who had lost eight games in a row in this rivalry - prevailed 27-20 in a hard-fought, emotional game before 1,151 vocal fans on Goodreau Field at Villanova Stadium, despite an amazing touchdown pass by Villanova's Daniel Smith that gave his team a chance late in the game. When the victory was secured, the Blue Hens (5-0, 4-0 CAA) stood on the Villanova logo at midfield, the Wildcats took exception and there was a lot of pushing and shoving before order was restored. After Villanova (2-2, 2-2 CAA) went to the locker room, the Blue Hens did their dance.

NIJUEL HILL AFTER THE GAME-CLINCHING INTERCEPTION (University of Delaware photo by Mark Campbell)

“There is no doubt that this is a big moment for our program,” said Delaware head coach Danny Rocco, whose team clinched the CAA North Division championship, “and that big moment is in reference to a number of things. Certainly, beating Villanova is one of them.”

It was an evenly played first half but the game turned late in the second quarter after the Wildcats had gone ahead 7-6. The Villanova defense forced a three-and-out and the ‘Cats took over with 2:05 left in the half and all three timeouts. On the second play of the series, TD Ayo-Durojaiye’s 18-yard run gave Villanova a first down at the 39-yard line but on the next play, Smith slipped down when he was all by himself and the 12-yard loss effectively ended the Villanova drive.

On the ensuing possession, the Blue Hens dink and dunked their way from their 30 to the Wildcats’ 38, on second down Nolan Henderson tossed a deep pass down the middle that was hauled in by Jourdan Townsend behind the Villanova secondary. Townsend reached for the goal line and the ball broke the plane just as he was tackled with eight seconds showing on the clock, the play survived a replay review and UD went to the locker room up 13-7.

“In games like this, it usually isn’t just one play that defines the moment,” said Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante, “but that definitely was deflating heading into the locker room.”

Earlier in the first half, the Blue Hens got a pair of field goals by Ryan Coe to go up 6-0. With just over three-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter, Villanova took the lead on an eight-yard pass from Smith to Dez Boykin. The key play on the drive was the first one when Smith hit Jaaron Hayek with a 21-yard and a penalty against Delaware added 15 yards to give the 'Cats a first down at the Blue Hens' 40, six plays later Villanova was in the end zone.

In the third quarter, the Wildcats cut it to 13-10 on a 34-yard field goal by Cole Bunce with running back Jalen Jackson providing just about all of the offense. He gained 64 of the 67 yards Villanova gained on the drive with the bulk coming on a 51-yard run.

The Blue Hens extended their lead to 10 on the next series, the drive was kept alive twice on penalties against the Wildcats. One was a roughing the punter call and the other was a roughing the passer on a third-and-five play. Two plays later, it was 20-10 after Henderson hit Bryce De Maille with an 18-yard touchdown pass.

Early in the fourth quarter, Bunce was good from 36-yards after a 36-yard run by Justin Covington on the final play of the third quarter set him up.

The Blue Hens wound answer again and again with a touchdown. Thyrick Pitts went 45-yards with a catch and run to put the ball at the Villanova three-yard line. Khory Spruill took it the rest of the way and it was 27-13 Blue Hens.

The Wildcats would matriculate the ball down the field with help from a 31-yard pass from Smith to Jevon Jones but it was Smith’s play on the touchdown that people will remember even though Villanova came up short in the game.

Officially, it will go down as a one-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Gilroy but as Smith rolled to his right under a rush, he was tripped up by linebacker Johnny Buchanan. As he was falling, Smith kept his balance by placing his left hand on the ground and flipped the ball behind his back which was facing the end zone. Buchanan celebrated, thinking he sacked Smith but Gilroy came down with it and it was 27-20 with just over three minutes left.

"I just threw it over my shoulder," said Smith, "I couldn't see anything. I got up, turned around, and saw Charlie catch it. It went from being one of the stupidest decisions I think I ever made to one of the most insane decisions I ever made all in two seconds.”

The Wildcats defense allowed one first down but got the ball back for the offense with a little more than a minute left but Smith was intercepted on the first play to seal the win for the Blue Hens.

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