Winning seasons on the line as ‘Cats, Blue Hens renew rivalry

Kyle Scudilla

“Mathematically possible” is usually a phrase that, in sports, is reserved for when a team is at its most desperate moment. Such was the case three weeks ago, when even the most optimistic Villanova football supporter may not have even given the idea of a mathematically possible winning season much thought. Each week, as the 2-5 Wildcats rallied to defeat William & Mary, Richmond and James Madison in succession, that idea has drifted further away from fantasy and much closer to reality. Now, the feisty Wildcats stand at 5-5 with just one game remaining on the schedule. Standing in the way of a winning season for the Wildcats are their greatest rivals, the Delaware Blue Hens, who also need a win to finish above .500.

Where the teams stand

The Wildcats pulled off their biggest win of the year last week in their home finale when they knocked off No. 4 James Madison. JMU was undefeated in conference play this season until Villanova came from behind in the final minutes to win 21-20. The Dukes’ only other loss this season came against No. 1 Appalachian State. ‘Nova raised their Atlantic 10 record to 4-3 while pulling their overall record even. Delaware sits directly beneath Villanova in the South Division standings with a 3-4 A-10 record. The Blue Hens countered two losses against Towson and James Madison with a win last week against William & Mary to run their overall record to 5-5.

When Villanova has the ball

Villanova’s offense wasn’t spectacular against James Madison, but it took care of business when it needed to, most notably fullback DeQuese May’s game-winning touchdown run with just 1:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Matt Dicken, while struggling to emulate the successes of his other recent performances, still punctuated the other two Wildcat scoring drives with touchdowns.

Villanova was out-gained 320-277 in total yards but converted on seven of its 14 third-down attempts and turned the ball over just once. Quarterback Marvin Burroughs, despite not throwing a touchdown, did tally 190 yards. He is fifth in the Atlantic 10 this season with 1,917 yards to go along with nine passing touchdowns.

Brandyn Harvey, who finished with a season-high four catches and 82 yards, was a key player in keeping the ball moving for the ‘Cats’ offense. The receiving corps was also buoyed by wide receiver Chris Polite’s return from injury. Polite made two catches for 45 yards against James Madison after missing Villanova’s past three games. Now that he’s healthy, he joins a group that has seen step-up performances from May, Harvey, Phil Atkinson and Matthew Sherry in the last few weeks.

The offense’s challenge on paper is much easier than the one they faced this past week. Delaware is ranked last in the Atlantic 10 in total defense this year, allowing an average of 400 yards per game to its opponents. They’ve also surrendered 25.7 points per contest, the third-highest mark in the conference. Linebacker KeiAndre Hepburn has enjoyed success this season despite the bleak state of the Blue Hens’ defensive unit. The senior has made a team-high 90 tackles in his final season at Delaware.

When Delaware has the ball

To counter their sub-par defense this season, the Blue Hens have had to rely on their offense, more specifically, their passing game. They rank third in the conference in passing and fourth in scoring offense. Quarterback Joe Flacco is third in the conference with 2,446 yards and 16 passing touchdowns. The junior has thrown for multiple touchdowns in five of his 10 games this year, including a season-high four touchdowns against Towson three weeks ago.

The Delaware offense is flanked by two of the best receivers in the Atlantic 10. Ben Patrick (58 receptions, 589 yards, five touchdowns) and Aaron Love (51 receptions, 671 yards, four touchdowns) each rank among the top receivers in both catches and receiving yards in the conference. Love has been on fire of late, racking up over 100 receiving yards in each of Delaware’s last four games to go along with 35 catches and three touchdowns over that same time period.

Running back Omar Cuff’s absence from the lineup on four occasions this year, all during the last six Delaware games, has hurt the team’s rushing attack this year. Cuff, however, bounced back after missing the team’s losses against Towson and James Madison to rush for 93 yards against William & Mary. The junior, who rushed for 1,205 yards last season on 249 attempts, has been limited to just 104 carries and 460 yards this year. He has also chipped in with 206 receiving yards and has scored seven touchdowns. In his absence, freshman running back Jared Bradley and sophomore wide receiver Kervin Michaud have filled in admirably. Still, the Blue Hens have managed to gain the third-lowest total of rushing yards of any A-10 team this year.

The Wildcats had a big performance defensive last week to key their upset victory and hand James Madison its first A-10 loss all season. They held Delaware to just 4 of 13 third-down conversions, a big reason why they overcame the Dukes’ 320 yards of total offense. They also recovered two fumbles: one by Bryan Adams on a mishandle by Justin Rascati and another which was forced by Blake Schubert and recovered by Allyn Bacchus on an L.C. Baker punt return. In what was a game-changing play, Baker returned the ball 56 yards to the Villanova 6-yard line and looked ready to score until the fumble.

Another reason for Villanova’s ability to limit the high-powered James Madison offense was punter Zach Ugarte. The freshman won the Atlantic 10’s Special Teams Player of the Week award with an average of 42.0 yards on seven punts. For the season, Ugarte is averaging 38.4 yards per punt.


In the 39 times these two teams have faced off, Delaware holds the edge with a 20-18-1 record in the all-time series. Delaware will host the 40th match-up between the teams after winning big last year by a score of 38-13 at Villanova. The lastest installment of this rivalry could determine which of these sides ends the 2006 season with a winning record.