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Villanova football eyes CAA title but ‘Battle of the Blue’ rival Delaware stands in the way

The Wildcats would clinch their first conference title since 2012 with a win on Saturday against the Blue Hens.

Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith (12) has never won a football trophy. That will change Saturday if the Wildcats can beat rivals Delaware.
Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith (12) has never won a football trophy. That will change Saturday if the Wildcats can beat rivals Delaware.Read moreCourtesy of Villanova / Gavin Baker / Sideline Photos LL

Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith has been playing football for 15 years but he doesn’t have a single trophy to show for it.

Now, in his final year of college football, Smith’s first trophy is in reach. This weekend’s contest at Delaware (1 p.m.), with the Colonial Athletic Association championship on the line, might be the best chance for the graduate student to start his collection.

“It’d be nice to get the first one from the CAA,” Smith said. “It’s a big deal.”

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Villanova (8-2) has not won the conference since 2012. But at 6-1 and holding the tiebreaker over James Madison, the Wildcats will win the CAA if they defeat the Blue Hens on Saturday. Not only is this weekend a chance for the Wildcats to win the CAA, but it is an opportunity to do so against their rival, and take back the Battle of the Blue trophy — which has been awarded to the winner of the rivalry game since 2007.

“It’s a big game coming up,” said Villanova coach Mark Ferrante. “They’re all big, but you know it’s big because it’s the next one, and it’s our rivalry game.”

With a balanced offense, a shutdown defense, and dependable special teams, No. 6 Villanova has established itself as one of the premier FCS teams this season. Last week against Stony Brook, Villanova ran for 275 yards with both Justin Covington (143 yards) and Jalen Jackson (107) eclipsing the century mark. The defense also had a big day, holding the Seawolves to 175 total yards — just 69 passing — in a 33-14 win.

Then there is Smith, who this season has thrown for 1,955 yards and 21 touchdowns and also has seven rushing TDs. Smith has been especially good of late, rebounding from a four-interception game against William & Mary by accounting for eight total touchdowns over the past two games.

“I think if we go in and execute and all 11 guys on each side of the ball do their job and do what they’re supposed to do, there’s not really anybody who can stop us,” Smith said.

Villanova holds a 31-22-1 edge in the all-time rivalry with the Blue Hens, and has won 13 of the last 15 meetings. Last season, Villanova lost to Delaware 27-20, its first defeat in the rivalry in eight years. The Wildcats were outplayed for much of the day but mounted a late comeback that came up short after Smith was intercepted with less than a minute to play.

A few things are different this year for the 5-5 Blue Hens, with Zach Gwynn replacing Nolan Henderson at quarterback after Henderson suffered a hip injury in September. Delaware still leans heavily on the passing game, though, as is averages just 118.7 rushing yards a game (ninth in the 12-team league). This season, Delaware averages 20.4 points per game (also ninth) compared to Villanova’s 32.8 (second).

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“I hope we can come out Saturday and have all three phases play consistently like we have had a couple of the last weeks here,” Ferrante said.

A win for the Wildcats this weekend would mean Battle of the Blue revenge, a CAA title, and the opportunity to host an FCS playoff game. If the Wildcats continue playing as they have in recent weeks, they should be in a good position to not only accomplish all that but help Smith end that long wait to win a trophy.

“[Last weekend] I started thinking about it, and I was like, ‘Wow, this really could be it,’” Smith said. “Thankfully we’ve had some success this year and we have a positive outlook on the playoffs, but you know, we don’t look past any game.”