In a crushing senior day loss, Villanova fell in its season finale to Delaware, 27-20, in the Battle of the Blue.
The play of the game happened with just over three minutes left, as Smith ran right but was grabbed by a Delaware defender. As he fell to the ground, he flipped the ball over his shoulder hoping for a miracle, and junior tight end Charlie Gilroy caught it in the end zone to narrow a 14-point Blue Hen lead to 27-20. It was a remarkable individual effort by Smith, and it earned national attention, posted by CBS Sports and other national news outlets. However, the Wildcat comeback fell short, as a late interception of VU quarterback Daniel Smith led to a storming of the field by Blue Hen players.
Thyrick Pitts was the catalyst for Delaware’s victory, with five catches for 104 yards, while Gene Coleman II and Jourdan Townsend each had a touchdown catch. Quarterback Nolan Henderson had a big performance, throwing for 270 yards on 20-of-24 throwing with the two touchdowns.
With eight minutes remaining, Khory Spruill rushed for a touchdown to extend the Delaware lead to 27-13. Bryce De Maille had scored in the third quarter to give the Hens a one-TD advantage.
Despite the loss, Villanova left everything on the field. The Wildcats were able to take advantage of the hard flats Delaware was playing to run up the middle until it got the breaks it needed, allowing for senior back Justin Covington to go for 76 rushing yards. Smith didn’t have the passing game needed to seal the victory, throwing for just 143 yards, albeit with two touchdowns. The ‘Cats tried to mix in some deep passes with the gap space running game to create some confusion for Delaware backs, but could not capitalize on limited opportunities, including a key drop by Boykin.
The defensive stories of the two teams could not have been more different. Delaware, as it has all year, covered the edges of the field well with an aggressive man scheme with the corner. When Villanova tried to spread out its receivers across the perimeter as much as it could, it was able to counter any type of meshing or rub rounds that could have happened five yards off the line. This was especially effective with the Blue Hens’ two high safety looks, applying more pressure to the Wildcat receivers in motion for incompletions. Delaware also blitzed early, which is also favorable of it, including on third downs to open both the first and third quarters.
Villanova played close in the center of the field, bringing its linebackers and defensive backs close to try and limit the motion options for Delaware, which stood well against Henderson’s running. This was paired with a commonly used single high safety look in the middle of the field, as Delaware stuck to intermediate routes not worth sending several safeties. However, in the Red Zone, Villanova had multiple instances of sending three safeties into the end zone.
Villanova’s season ended with a record of 2-2 after the loss, while Delaware improved to 5-0, qualifying for the FCS playoffs. The Blue Hens will take on Sacred Heart on Saturday with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.