Unbeaten Delaware Valley looking to do even more
The Aggies have reached the quarterfinals of the Division III playoffs for the first time since 2005. They will host unbeaten Brockport on Saturday.
Duke Greco just had a really good feeling.
When the Delaware Valley football coach first met with his staffers to start the offseason, he let them know what he thought about the potential of this year's team, his fourth since taking over for former boss Jim Clements.
Still, it has to happen.
"You never want to get ahead of yourself," said Greco, a former Aggies quarterback (class of 2002). "But this was the goal, from the time we began planning. I felt if we didn't get here we would have been disappointed in ourselves. It was kind of weird.
"We thought we were good enough to be in the elite eight, if we didn't mess it up as a staff. We were all together on that. But then you have to see how it goes."
Now there are eight teams left in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Six are unbeaten. Del Val is one of them.
Forty years ago, ageless assistant Bill Manlove won the first of his two national D-III titles at Widener.
"I ask him about that all the time," Greco said. "I want him to be honest with me. 'Tell me the truth. How good are we, really?' I think we can compete with anybody …
"I'm really superstitious. I believe in anything that's going to help us win. So I'll take this being his anniversary as a positive sign."
On Saturday afternoon, the Aggies will host fellow unbeaten College of Brockport (N.Y.), which just beat Wesley at home, 49-28. Del Val beat Wesley in its opener in Doylestown, 24-19. Since then, the Aggies haven't won by fewer than 20. And that was in late September. In last week's second round, they beat visiting Husson College (Bangor, Maine), 37-15.
The Aggies are making their first tournament appearance since 2014, when they lost a playoff opener at home by three to Christopher Newport in Greco's debut season. The last two years, they finished 9-2, winning a Centennial-Middle Atlantic series game each time.
They made it to the quarterfinals in 2004 and '05, under G.A. Mangus, losing both times to Rowan (the second at home). Brockport made it this far in 2002.
The winner will get either Mary Hardin-Baylor (Belton, Texas) or St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.) next week, probably on the road. Especially if it's MHB, which is the defending national champion. Mount Union, which won in 2015, is in the opposite bracket.
The Aggies are 9-6 in playoff games, 9-4 at Work Memorial Stadium.
Greco was an assistant for the 2004 team. The next year, he was playing in Italy.
"I remember it was exciting," he recalled. "That was the first time Del Val had had success. So it was a little different. Now, you just want to keep it going. But at this point, every team is elite.
"The last couple of years, we were just missing out on things. We've talked about that. I just wanted this group to know how special they could make this."
Junior quarterback Dashawn Darden, who came from Cardinal O'Hara by way of a year at Wyoming Seminary Prep School (Kingston, Pa.), has thrown for 2,146 yards and rushed for 624. He has been responsible for 32 touchdowns. Last week, he threw for 319 yards and three scores.
He, too, thought the Aggies could get where they are.
"You always want to take it one at a time, but you have things you want to accomplish," he said. "We wanted to win the MAC championship [for the first time since 2011]. Then we wanted to go as far as we could, all the way to the Stagg Bowl. We always had big dreams. And we've been working hard ever since.
"We're confident, but there's so much more to do. This is our second season. You try not to think about it. We're just having fun. That's what it's all about."
The criminal justice major is the youngest of seven children. He figures to have a large rooting section in the stands watching. It's all part of the experience.
"It helps me out," said Darden, who has started since the middle of his freshman season. "I've always had a lot of support from my family and friends. … The year at Wyoming was really more for my maturity. It gave me more time to grow. I did well in school there as well. It was harder than high school. I needed that. You learn to adjust. So that was good.
"Coach Greco kept in contact with me. We had a bond, a real connection. I think it's worked out."
Just as they figured it could.