Villanova will finish up a season that took a seriously wrong turn at home on Saturday afternoon against Delaware. Last November, a 7-3 Wildcats team won in Newark, 41-10, to secure an FCS playoff bid over the 4-6 Blue Hens. Of their six touchdowns, five were scored by tight end Ryan Bell, running back Matt Gudzak and freshman wide receiver Changa Hodge. All of those guys were back this year. But none will be playing in this one. Each went down with season-ending injuries in September. And Zach Bednarczyk, who threw for three TDs in that game, was also lost in the opening month.
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The Wildcats (4-6, 2-5 Colonial Athletic Association), who were ranked 10th in the preseason, have lost four straight. Two were to ranked opponents. They've scored 28 points in that stretch. They scored a combined 97 against Lehigh and Lafayette. And 106 in the others. They've also had 18 players get sidelined for the duration, 12 with knee injuries.
They'll have a losing season for the first time since 2011 (2-9). That was also the last time they lost to Delaware. They've taken 10 of the last 11 meetings. Many have been close. Two were when the Hens had Joe Flacco at quarterback.
"If I knew why, I'd bring it into each game each week," said first-year coach Mark Ferrante. "I can't explain it. It's a rivaly game. You see it all over the place. A lot of times it has come down to the end. I'm hoping it will continue.
"Sometimes it's just walking in believing you can beat this team. Or maybe the other way, walking in saying I don't know. And here we go again if something happens. There's been some crazy endings.
"This year the roles are reversed."
The Hens (7-3, 5-2) have not made the playoffs since 2010, when they lost in the national title game. They've only been in the tournament field twice since 2004. The other time, in 2007, they also reached the final. Now, under new coach Danny Rocco, they should at least be considered if they can get one more win. It would also be the first time in seven years that they would win more than seven games.
For Villanova, which lost last week at Rhode Island, 20-6, this is a chance to at least salvage something going into the offseason.
"We're trying to win a game in the CAA, which is always hard to do," Ferrante said. "If we can beat a very good team, it can help us get into the holiday weekend with a different mind-set. It's always emotional. Our seniors will get up and speak to the team this week about what the Delaware game means to them.
"We want to keep the [Battle of the Blue] trophy in our offices."
It won't change everything that's happened, but again it would obviously be better than losing their last five. Particularly for the seniors who'll never get another shot.
"This season's been very tough, on everyone," said linebacker/captain Ed Shockley, who leads the team with 91 tackles. "Especially with the expectations. You don't want to make excuses. I still think we're a playoff team even with what we've lost. We had some bad luck just came our way. If we could beat Delaware, the season wouldn't be a complete letdown. I wouldn't say it would make our day, but it would definitely pick us up. And that's big for the players who will be back.
"I think we can still prove something. We just haven't played well enough. That's on all of us. We've never lost to Delaware. In high school, [Millville, N.J.], I never lost my rivalry game [with Vineland]. That's a good thing to be able to say."
It's not where they wanted to be, but at this point it'll have to do. Because that's all there is.
"Sure we're disappointed, but it's just part of the game," said longsnapper Collin Linden, one of the CAA's best. "We would like to be in a different place. But this could take some of the sting away. Everyone likes to go out on a good note. It would still mean a lot.
"It's been a hard pill to swallow, but it's like life. Things are going to happen that you didn't expect … There's a lot of history between us. It's always going to be that kind of game. I remember when I was being recruited, we won by one at [Chester's] PPL Park by scoring like four times in the final eight minutes [and winning on a short field goal with one second to go]. It's a great matchup.
"Coach always says the next game is the most important."