What happened in the rain Saturday afternoon at Villanova Stadium can’t erase all the things that happened to the Wildcats this season. But it sure will make that Thanksgiving meal taste better.
That’s what winning your rivalry game does for a program. Especially when you do it for the sixth straight year, and 11th time in the last 12 meetings.
The Wildcats hadn’t won since the first week of October. In their four losses since then, they’d scored 28 points. They got that many in their finale, against an opponent that was trying to make the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010.
They came within an 11-yard touchdown pass with 59 seconds left of getting a third home shutout. The last time that happened was 1939. They still finished with a 28-7 victory that should create some renewed momentum heading into the offseason.
Personnel losses had changed the expectations. But they managed to salvage something tangible.
The Blue Hens (7-4, 5-3 Colonial Athletic Association), who’d won five of their previous six, avoided getting blanked in this series for the first time in 21 years. The Wildcats (5-6, 3-5) won last year in Newark, 41-10, in a game they needed to secure a spot in the 24-team tournament field.
First-year Delaware coach Danny Rocco said he had “little hope” that his team will get in.
It was Villanova’s first losing season since 2011.
“It wasn’t the season we had hoped for,” said first-year coach Mark Ferrante, who saw 18 players go down with season-ending injuries. “But to finish this way … is a big statement.”
The Wildcats threw eight times. Two went for TDs, both from redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich to senior Taurus Phillips. Jeff Steeb returned an interception 38 yards for the score that made it 14-0 at 6½ minutes in. They’d doubled that lead by the midway point of the third quarter.
Just before halftime, the Hens tried a fake field goal from the 18 but the pass was broken up in the end zone.
The Wildcats rushed for 261 yards (on 47 carries), their highest total since the Lafayette game in mid-September. Junior Aaron Forbes had 140 on 13 attempts, the third 100-yard game of his career and first this season. They scored a rushing TD for the first time since Oct. 7.
“Maybe I should just tell the guys we’re playing Delaware every week,” Ferrante said. “The seniors took control this week. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re playing with a little more passion. Other than that, we didn’t change anything.”
If nothing else, it gives the ones who won’t be back a final enduring memory.
“The season we could have had got put on hold,” said senior linebacker Ed Shockley, who had 10 tackles to go over 100 this season. “But to go out this way is an honor, a tribute to all the hard work.”
Pass the turkey.