NEWARK, Del. -- Sometimes, it takes only one play.
Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith, struggling through his worst game of the season, had just been blindsided by a Delaware defender and the No. 6 Wildcats were in danger of losing their grip on a Colonial Athletic Association title.
Enter Jaaron Hayek.
On the first play of a drive from Villanova’s 35-yard line with 12 minutes, 19 seconds to go and Delaware up by six, Hayek got free over the middle and Smith hit him in stride for a catch-and-run that went for 64 yards to the Delaware 1-yard line.
Jalen Jackson, on the next play, scored the first of two Villanova fourth-quarter touchdowns, and the Wildcats went on to win, 21-13, in the Battle of Blue at Delaware Stadium.
“Anytime you get a win it feels good, no matter how you got it,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. He added that he wasn’t frustrated by the Wildcats’ struggles through three quarters.
“I have super confidence that our staff will get things going and they did and I have super confidence in our team that they’ll keep plugging along until something pops,” he said.
Villanova (9-2) will share the CAA championship with James Madison but earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs thanks to a one-point win over JMU in October.
It’s Villanova’s first CAA championship since 2012.
“It feels great to call this team champions,” Ferrante said. “I’m super proud of everybody on this team.”
The Wildcats are in search of their first playoff win since 2016. The bracket will be revealed at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Smith had completed just 8 of 20 passes for 68 yards and had an interception on his stat line before the pass to Hayek woke up the offense.
Villanova took a 14-13 lead on Jackson’s score, then forced a Delaware punt. Smith then went for the kill, hooking up with Rayjoun Pringle for 41 yards down the left sideline. That set up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Hayek that gave Villanova a 21-13 lead.
Then things got interesting.
The Wildcats had a chance to put the game away late in the fourth quarter, but Smith fumbled on third down and the Blue Hens recovered.
Delaware (5-6) started its final drive with three minutes left and a chance to even the score at Villanova’s 21-yard line.
The drive ended when Delaware attempted a shovel pass on fourth down from the 2-yard line.
Villanova made it seven consecutive games without allowing its opponent to throw for a touchdown, the most since the school reinstated football and became an FCS program in 1985. It is the longest such streak in FCS play since Colgate rattled off seven straight in 2018.
It didn’t come easy. Twice in the first half, Delaware threatened to stop the streak, but Christian Benford notched his seventh interception of the year with a goal-line pick early in the second quarter and Ty Trinh intercepted Delaware’s Anthony Paoletti in the end zone on the following Delaware drive.
Benford later broke up a Zach Gwynn pass intended for Thyrick Pitts to force a field goal early in the fourth quarter to keep Villanova in striking distance, and the Wildcats quickly answered to take the lead.
Villanova entered Saturday with 15 interceptions on the season, tied for fifth among FCS teams and just two behind Austin Peay and Montana.