BY ROCK HOFFMAN
College Football Editor
Villanova stunned Delaware 29-26 Saturday afternoon on Goodreau Field at Villanova Stadium as the Wildcats' Connor Watkins ran two yards on a fourth down to score his second touchdown of the day with just over a minute to go in the game. It was set up by a blocked punt – the Wildcats' second of the quarter. Villanova (6-5, 4-4 CAA) now leads the all-time series with their rival 33-22-1 and has won the "Battle of the Blue" in 15 of the last 17 contests. They won despite being outgained 461 yards to 250 and Blue Hen quarterback Nolan Henderson setting career highs in completions and attempts while throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
"We knew going in this was it," said Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante, "it will definitely have a much better taste in our mouth. Six and five is a lot different than five and six,"
"They made a few more plays than we did," said Delaware head coach Ryan Carty, "when they needed them. I'm staring at the stat sheet, it's unfortunate, it's not even close."
Each team made their fair share of mistakes, in addition to the two blocked punts, Delaware (7-4, 4-4 CAA) fumbled on the second play from scrimmage when Ty Trinh stripped the ball from Jourdan Townsend, who had been on the receiving end of a short pass from Henderson. Trinh also made the recovery at the Delaware 36, which set up Watkins' first score – a seven-yard run. The Villanova quarterback had kept the short drive alive when he ran for 18 yards on a fourth-and-six play from the Blue Hens' 32.
Delaware wide receiver Thyrick Pitts is a two-time All-CAA performer, he doesn't need any help getting open but on the Blue Hens' second possession, the Wildcats didn't even cover him on a play, and it resulted in a 48-yard touchdown reception by the sixth-year senior.
The Wildcats had a first down wiped out by a penalty on their next drive, then had to punt. Delaware would move to the 'Nova 25 but Brendan Bell stuffed Kyron Cumby for a three-yard loss on a fourth-down run.
The Blue Hens dominated the second quarter with a 17-play, 85-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes. As they matriculated the ball down the field, they converted three of four third downs and once on fourth. Pitts caught a seven-yard touchdown from Henderson, but Garrett Bennion missed the extra point.
Watkins completed just five of 16 passes for the game, but he had a big one on the 'Cats' next series when he hit Dez Boykin on a play that covered 58 yards. Two plays later, DeeWil Barlee scored on a two-yard run.
The Blue Hens had another long drive – this one was 16 plays – but it was quick, just under three minutes, and ended with a 32-yard field goal by Brandon Ratcliffe as time expired in the first half with Delaware leading 16-14.
The Blue Hens didn't punt until their first possession of the second half, but they got a break when the ball bounced off Villanova's Hunter Cusimano, and "Shoes" Brinkley fell on it at the Wildcats 35. This time Delaware needed just two plays to score with Henderson and Townsend hooking up on a 25-yard touchdown.
After a three-and-out by Villanova, the Blue Hens drove into Wildcats' territory but turned it over on downs at the 34. On the second play of the Villanova possession, Watkins and Boykin connected again, this one was for 38 yards. Barlee had it covered from there as he carried on three of the next four plays for a total of 25 yards including an 11-yard touchdown run with left tackle Temi Ajirotutu leading the way.
"The o-line did a great job of getting that extra push," said Barlee, who had 66 yards on the ground. "The running game started slow but [in] the second half, we leaned on it."
All game Henderson had been moving around, avoiding Villanova defenders, and using his legs to make plays with his arm. Late in the third quarter, the Wildcats finally got to him when Shane Hartzell sacked him. It would lead to the Blue Hens punting from deep in their territory as the game moved to the fourth quarter. However, Rayjuon Pringle muffed the punt and Kaelin Costello was there for the recovery. The Blue Hens had a first-and-goal at the eight but would only get a 25-yard field goal by Ratcliffe to make it 26-21.
Midway through the final quarter, Ben Dinkle was in to punt for the Blue Hens, but his kick was blocked by Richie Kimmel – the Wildcats' first block of the season. Villanova got to the eight themselves, but a penalty forced them into a fourth-and-14 which they failed to convert.
"We had opportunities throughout the game," said Watkins, when asked if he was worried that they wouldn't get another shot, "that we missed on. I was more frustrated about that. Our defense, in the second half, played lights out. Our defense was going to get a stop, we talked, it was we're going to have one more shot at this. We have to be ready to roll."
The Wildcats wouldn't have to wait long for their second blocked kick, Devon Marshall got it and the 'Cats had it at the 10-yard line with just over two minutes left. After Barlee ran it twice to get to the one, Watkins lost a yard, then came f
ourth down. With the Blue Hens keying on the middle of the line, the junior raced to his right and scored untouched.
"Going into that play," said Watkins, who ran for 60 yards, "coach wanted to put the ball in my hands. We were able to have two tight ends and a running back lead blocking on the right edge. It was, get as many people on as many people as possible and out-work them."
Delaware got to near midfield and tried a lateral on the final play but, on this day, one short of the 40th anniversary of the Cal-Stanford Band play, there would be no miracles for the Blue Hens.
Email Rock Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org