Blue Hens squander playoff chance after upset loss at Villanova

Brandon Holveck/THE REVIEW
After a season-closing loss to Villanova, Head Coach Danny Rocco questioned the selection committee’s decision to choose New Hampshire over Delaware.


With four games to go, the Blue Hens, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, looked poised to claim their first postseason berth since 2010.

However, following an upset loss at Towson, 18-17 on Oct. 28, Delaware likely needed another perfect three-game streak to reach the playoffs.

After nabbing the first two wins against Maine and Albany, Delaware was dominated in all phases by Villanova in its season finale on Nov. 18, en route to a 28-7 Wildcat victory. The Blue Hens, who ultimately fell short of their playoff goal, were held scoreless for 59 minutes. Jamie Jarmon provided the lone score with 59 seconds remaining.

A Delaware victory at Villanova would have all but guaranteed the Blue Hens a spot in the postseason, as no CAA team with eight wins overall and six in conference play has been left out of the playoffs since the FCS moved to their current 24-team format in 2013.

The Blue Hens ended the season 7-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play.

Delaware’s absence extends a program-record seven-year playoff drought. Delaware last reached the postseason in 2010, when they lost to Eastern Washington in the championship game under K.C. Keeler.

Villanova led 14-0 at halftime off an eight-play 87-yard opening scoring drive and a Jeff Steeb 38-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Wildcats piled on two more scores at the end of the third quarter, to control the game, at 28-0, heading into the final frame.

Delaware’s afternoon was marred by inefficiency in the ground game. Starter Kani Kane and backup Khory Spruill combined for just 50 yards on 18 carries (2.8 yards per carry). Joe Walker led the team with 37 yards on nine attempts.

On the defensive end, Delaware allowed 261 rushing yards — a season high — 140 coming from starter Aaron Forbes on just 13 carries (10.8 yards per carry).

However, after a pack of FCS contenders lost on the final Saturday game of the regular season, including CAA foe New Hampshire, the door opened for Delaware to make the playoffs. New Hampshire, at the same record as Delaware, made the playoffs, despite a 15-0 regular season-closing loss at Albany. James Madison, Stony Brook and Elon joined New Hampshire as the CAA’s four postseason representatives.

In his final media availability of the season, Head Coach Danny Rocco adamantly professed Delaware’s case for the playoffs and his incomprehension of the playoff selection committee’s decision-making process.

“When I came in Sunday morning, and I did all of the research that I had done, there was nothing that would lead me to think that we would not be in the field,” Rocco said. “The CAA merits four teams … We were without a doubt, the fourth team in our league, without a doubt.”

Delaware ranked 10 spots higher than New Hampshire (Delaware ranked 21st, New Hampshire 31st) in the Simple Rating System (SRS), which combines multiple factors including wins versus ranked opponents, conference record and record against common opponents to produce an objective ranking of all the FCS teams. The SRS is only released to the public after the playoff selection committee makes their decision.

Delaware and New Hampshire did not play each other this season, as each team in the 12-team CAA only plays eight conference matchups. Delaware and New Hampshire will meet next season when the CAA schedule shifts on its three-year rotation.

Committee chairman and Wofford Athletic Director Richard Johnson told The News Journal that the differentiating factor was New Hampshire’s win over an FBS opponent, Georgia Southern (1-9).

New Hampshire has made the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons. Their athletic director, Marty Scarano, is the CAA’s representative on the playoff selection committee.

Upon learning their playoff fate, Rocco immediately shifted his staff’s focus to preparation for next season. After reversing course to lead Delaware to its highest win total since 2013, Rocco said the program certainly “remains on track.”

Delaware will welcome back six of their 11 All-CAA selections including first teamers Troy Reeder and Nasir Adderley and CAA defensive rookie of the year Colby Reeder.

Rocco said the team will have “more options moving forward” at quarterback, which is perhaps Delaware’s largest area of need. The Blue Hens have finished last in passing offense in the CAA for three consecutive seasons. This year was their first season above 100 passing yards per game since 2014.

“We need to define what we want to do offensively a little more,” Rocco said.

Caruso and Walker return alongside redshirt sophomore Pat Kehoe. Freshman Nolan Henderson, a two-time state champion at Smyrna High School, will also figure into the mix after running the scout team as a true freshman this season.

Delaware opens the 2018 season against Rhode Island on Thursday, Aug. 30.

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