Wildcats to Face Delaware in Season Finale

Running back Jalen Jackson celebrates during the win Saturday.

The Battle of the Blue returns this weekend as the Villanova football team travels to Newark to take on Delaware in its last regular season game of the year. 

While the Wildcats come off of a strong win against Stony Brook behind the combined efforts of graduate running back Justin Covington and senior running back Jalen Jackson, the Blue Hens are returning home after suffering a loss to Richmond. The loss is a further representation of a disappointing season for Delaware, as it currently sits at 5-5 overall, 3-4 in CAA play. 

The rivalry between Delaware and Villanova has always been fierce, although recent history may not paint that picture. Dating back to 1895, the ‘Cats are 31-22 against the Blue Hens and are 9-1 since 2012. 

Most recently, the two teams battled it out in Villanova Stadium this past spring. While 10th-ranked ‘Nova entered the matchup 2-1 overall, 7th-ranked Delaware came in undefeated with the CAA championship in sight. The Blue Hens led 27-13 late in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats mounted a comeback. Current graduate quarterback Daniel Smith threw a touchdown pass while upside down in midair, cutting the score to 27-20. This pass was regarded as one of the wildest plays in history, even catching the attention of Sports Illustrated and ESPN. The ‘Cats had the ball with a minute to go, but an interception led to their first defeat to Delaware in 10 years. 

This season, the Wildcat defense will have to make sure to contain one of the best receivers in the CAA in graduate wide receiver Thyrick Pitts. Pitts leads the Delaware receivers with 657 receiving yards, 73.0 yards per game and seven touchdowns. In addition, redshirt junior quarterback Zach Gwynn leads Delaware with 1,185 passing yards, 148.1 per game and eight touchdowns. 

On the ‘Nova offense, key players should be able to find success against the Blue Hen defense, which ranks in the bottom half of the CAA. With the return of Covington to an already deep rushing game, the ‘Cats will be hard to stop on offense. Mix in the arm of Smith and a solid receiving corps in junior Jaaron Hayek, senior Dez Boykin and junior Rayjoun Pringle, and Villanova will be hard to stop.

The season has been disappointing for the Blue Hens, especially after a strong performance in the spring in which Delaware went on to the FCS semifinals. Beginning the season ranked fifth in the country, the Blue Hens started strong before going on a three game losing streak against a few top CAA competitors. However, the last week of the season is filled with rivalries, which means everything is off of the table when it comes to past performance.

“It’s a rivalry game — records mean nothing in this one,” head coach Mark Ferrante said earlier this week. “We’re gonna come down there and hopefully play a consistent four quarters. I know they’re gonna be trying to do the same.”

While this yearly match is already important to both teams, a little more urgency is on the Wildcat sideline. With a win, the ‘Cats maintain their top rank in the CAA conference, regardless of the result of JMU’s game this Saturday. With a JMU win, they will share the conference championship, and with a JMU loss, they will win it outright. The championship would be Villanova’s first since the 2012 season. 

The Battle kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. in Newark and will be televised live on NBC Sports Philadelphia.