Villanova, Delaware Set For 54th Battle Of The Blue
Villanova, Delaware Set For 54th Battle Of The Blue
The rivalry between Villanova and Delaware will add a chapter on Saturday with FCS Playoffs on the line.
Ricky Tunstall checked a receiver headed to the sideline, but spotting a pass thrown away from his assignment, changed direction. Tunstall jumped the route, and behind a convoy of blockers, went untouched into the Villanova Stadium end zone.
The pick-six and ensuing PAT gave Delaware a 26-16 lead, ultimately the final score in the last Blue Hens come-from-behind victory over the Wildcats. That was 10 years ago this coming November.
Before that night a decade ago, Villanova won the five previous matchups in the Battle of the Blue.
The Wildcats’ dominance in the Battle of the Blue is in no way an indictment of Delaware football over that time. Twice during Villanova’s streak from 2006 through 2010, the Blue Hens ended the season in the National Championship Game.
So why have the Wildcats been so strong in this rivalry, which dates back to 1895?
“I wish I could have an answer for that,” said coach Mark Ferrante. “If I had that answer, I’d try to bottle it up, bring it to every week and every game and play that well each week.”
Villanova has indeed found a formula that works against Delaware. Ferrante has been on the sideline in some capacity for each of the 13-of-14 wins in the series, both as head coach and as an assistant to Hall of Famer Andy Talley.
Each matchup has taken on its own unique identity. The next edition, 54th all-time between the programs, might be the most unique.
As the first Battle of the Blue played in the spring, the 2020(ish) Wildcats and Blue Hens make history before ever even kicking off. And as a byproduct of the peculiar timeline stemming from the pandemic, the stakes are especially high.
Typically, Delaware coming in ranked No. 7 and Villanova checking in at No. 10 would guarantee that regardless of result, both teams are still headed to the FCS Playoffs. Not the case in this spring campaign.
Blue Hens coach Danny Rocco noted that his team has met the NCAA’s threshold to be considered for an at-large bid, but with only five to spare, a blemish on their perfect record might be enough reason to leave Delaware out.
Even a perfect record guarantees nothing. The Colonial Athletic Association automatic qualifier process leaves athletic directors to a vote. With one of either James Madison or Richmond assured a perfect finish in the South, there will be two undefeated teams no matter what in the result of a Delaware win.
Coupled with the streak it aims to break, Delaware could understandably be under heightened pressure heading into the Battle. But Rocco does not view the streak itself as putting any additional strain on the Blue Hens’ preparation.
“I don’t know if the added motivation’s ever needed,” he said. “It’s a very important game because there are conference title hopes on the outcome of the game, and postseason opportunities determined.”
The prospect of winning a share of its first CAA championship since 2010 and qualifying for the playoffs — by either automatic berth of at-large — is its own lofty motivation.
Villanova can’t win the CAA, but the stakes for the Wildcats aren’t at all diminished. They’re ranked No. 10 nationally heading into the Battle, and a closing statement win over a top 10-ranked opponent might be enough to persuade the committee.
“I would hope so,” said Wildcats running back Justin Covington. “We can read everything on Twitter, and obviously there are less playoff spots. I know a lot of guys are thinking even if we beat Delaware, we’ll still be on the outside looking in. But we’re just trying to stay grounded and control what we can control. The goal is still to beat Delaware.”
And even if a win doesn’t result in a playoff berth, Covington said, it has considerable implications for the Wildcats later in 2021.
“Whether we go to the playoffs or not, this is a big game for us to take the momentum we have into summer workouts and next fall,” he said.
Covington was unable to play when Villanova and Delaware last met in November 2019, but that didn’t stop the Wildcats from putting up 55 points in a three-touchdown-and-change win. Their output was a rivalry high dating back to Delaware’s 59 points in 2000, and the most a prolific Villanova offense scored in the 2019 campaign.
After a rusty start in the opener against Stony Brook, the spring 2021 Wildcats have recaptured their explosiveness and again average more than 30 points per game.
Villanova’s continued offensive prowess makes for an intriguing styles clash with a Delaware defense that has been overwhelming, holding opponents to a combined 38 points in four games. But what may shape the spring Battle of the Blue are similarities on offense.
“They have all the different things that make up a good offense,” Rocco said. “We’re different than them, but we offer the same kinds of challenges. We get to it different ways, but we can run the ball downhill, we can run the ball off the edge, we can throw the ball in the RPO game and we can get the ball out on the screens and the quick game, but we also have the ability to throw shots down the field.”
Quarterback Nolan Henderson’s shown dual-threat ability and precision in the passing game comparable to that of Villanova’s Dan Smith. Blue Hens running back Dejoun Lee is one of the standouts of the entire FCS spring campaign.
With such mirroring qualities, the 54th Battle of the Blue could hinge on a key defensive play — like Ricky Tunstall’s pick a decade ago.
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