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No. 10 Villanova Wins “Battle of the Blue,” Share of CAA Title, 35-7

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
The ‘Cats have won 10 of their last 11 meetings with Delaware.

NEWARK, Del. — After a disappointing, injury-riddled 6-5 campaign in 2022, the Wildcats decided they couldn’t underperform again. 

“We got together last season,” graduate receiver Jaaron Hayek said. “We didn’t have the season we wanted, so we got together as a group and decided something needed to change, and we decided to bring the culture forward and change the culture in our program.”

Graduate quarterback Connor Watkins said the meeting happened in December of 2022, after the ‘Cats beat Delaware to end their season.

“We came together, we met in a room and we just decided this is what our culture is going to be this year,” Watkins said. “Upperclassmen are going to have to lead by example and be vocal with those underclassmen. I just think this year, all the work that we’ve put in is paying off.”

No. 10 Villanova realized its ambitions Saturday afternoon, as it took down No. 7 Delaware in the “Battle of the Blue,” 35-7. With the win, the ‘Cats earned a share of the CAA title and the association’s automatic bid to the playoffs. The win moves them to 9-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play.

Hayek finished with 121 yards and two touchdowns on six catches, including a 51-yard touchdown catch to give the ‘Cats a 28-7 lead. Watkins had 223 yards and two touchdowns on 16 completions. Both of his touchdowns went to Hayek. Graduate running back Jalen Jackson led the way on the ground, with 130 rushing yards. 

Jackson’s rush on the first play from scrimmage went for 55 yards to set the ‘Cats up in the red zone. After a defensive pass interference penalty on the next play, graduate running back DeeWil Barlee scored from five yards out. The ‘Cats went up 7-0 within the first minute of game time.

The Blue Hens played most of the game with their third-string quarterback, freshman Nick Minicucci, after junior quarterback Ryan O’Connor and senior quarterback Zach Marker both went down with injuries in the second quarter.

The inexperience at quarterback proved to be important for the game, as Minicucci threw two interceptions. The second went to graduate linebacker Danny Abraham, who returned the pick 69 yards for a touchdown.

“That was kind of Madden-esque,” Abraham said. “I saw the running back leak out… I saw [Minicucci] lock eyes with the running back and at that point, it’s kind of see-ball-get-ball.”

While his pick-six put the ‘Cats up 35-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Abraham wasn’t thinking of the impact of his interception during his return.

“I was just thinking about not getting caught,” Abraham said. “Afterwards, seeing the reaction on the sideline, I definitely started to envision the commissioner with the trophy.”

Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said that while the foundations of the culture have stayed the same, the way the players have stepped into leadership roles has made a difference from last season.

“I love the way these guys have taken charge because nothing has made it to my office,” Ferrante said. “I haven’t had to deal with anything. I can’t say the same from last season.”

With the automatic bid, the Wildcats have secured themselves a spot in the FCS playoffs. Seeding for the playoffs will be determined tomorrow during the FCS championship selection show. If the ‘Cats receive one of the eight seeds available, they will not play next weekend. If they are not in the committee’s top eight teams, they will likely host a first-round opponent at Villanova Stadium on Nov. 25.

“Now we know it’s a new season,” Watkins said. “We’ve got to go 1-0 each week if we want to keep playing football.”

The FCS championship selection show will air on ESPNU at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

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Owen Hewitt
Owen Hewitt, Co-Sports Editor
Owen Hewitt is one of two Co-Sports Editors in 2024. Entering his second year in this position, he is a Communications major specializing in journalism. Owen is a Memphis native and a die-hard Grizzlies fan, although his main loyalty lies with Memphis 901 FC. When not writing about basketball or soccer, Owen can often be found on stage, performing as part of Villanova's improv team Ridiculum. Owen has many goals in life, including going into sports journalism as a profession, but his main goal — always — is to stay jitty with it.
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