BY KONNER METZ
Managing Sports Editor
Dejected and disappointed demeanors spread through the Delaware end of Villanova Stadium after Saturday’s gut wrenching 29-26 loss to the rival Wildcats.
The next day, players and coaches were preparing for their afternoon team meeting at the Whitney Athletic Center back home in Newark. Despite a 7-4 record and the creeping belief that the season was final, head coach Ryan Carty was keeping an eye on Sunday’s playoff selection show.
When he heard players cheering down the hallway, he knew Delaware’s season had just been extended. The Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) selection committee awarded the Blue Hens one of the 13 at-large bids into the 24-team bracket.
“It was super exciting, the guys were fired up,” senior defensive back Kedrick Whitehead said. “A lot of us were together at the time, eating breakfast in the Whitney Athletic Center. It was a roller coaster of emotions to say the least.”
“The joy that was in the building has been pretty special,” Carty said.
Delaware is set to host Saint Francis (9-2), a squad that has won nine straight since early road losses to Akron and Richmond. They qualified for the FCS Playoffs via an auto bid for winning the Northeast Conference.
The Hens, however, come into the postseason sliding, with two late-game collapses in Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) play. Two weeks ago, a late fourth-down conversion set up Richmond for a game-winning field goal at Delaware Stadium, and then Saturday, two blocked punts aided Villanova in erasing a nine-point deficit to win the Battle of the Blue.
But the team’s leaders know the past couple blunders are in the rearview now that Delaware squeaked into the playoff field.
“We know a couple games got away from us,” Whitehead said. “That’s in the past now. Everything that we want to accomplish is still out in front of us. Winning a national championship.”
“Now, everyone’s record is 0-0,” quarterback Nolan Henderson said. “What you did last week, what you did this past season up to this point, it’s not going to win you this next one.”
Henderson, though, knows the Blue Hens will need to transfer yards into points more often if they want to advance past Saturday’s first-round matchup. Against Villanova, Delaware amassed 461 yards (347 through the air), but had to settle for two field goal attempts in the red zone, along with giving up two possessions on failed fourth-down attempts.
“I think the one thing is just finish, finish games, finish drives,” Henderson said.
“I think in every single game we’ve played this year, we’ve moved the ball. Whether it’s getting to that field goal range, 30-yard line and kind of stalling out, or maybe not finishing games in the 4th quarter.”
Following Saturday, Delaware sports a 15-for-35 fourth-down conversion rate, with more attempts than any other CAA team. Meanwhile, St. Francis has held opponents to a 7-of-22 fourth-down success rate.
Offensively, the Red Flash are riding a streak of four games with at least 38 points. Redshirt sophomore Cole Doyle has taken the reins as the starting quarterback, throwing for 19 touchdowns in eight appearances. In a 52-23 win over Merrimack last week, Doyle went 24-for-30 with 412 yards and five passing touchdowns.
“It seems like [Doyle’s] really settled in and become something special,” Carty said. “We got our work cut out for us, I know that.”
Last year, Delaware took down St. Francis 27-10 in a September regular season matchup. But that was without Doyle, and with plenty of changes on both sides, Carty said not much time, if any, will be spent analyzing last year’s film.
Instead, Carty began working on defensive game film right after the matchup was announced, while the defensive coaching staff and players are doing the same for the Red Flash offense. With no school for student athletes this week, there was plenty of time for players to catch up and prepare.
“Guys that are banged up, you have more time to get your body right, more treatment time,” Henderson said. “[And there’s] more time to watch film. There’s no excuse that you got class and can’t be in the room watching film. We should be more prepared than we normally are.”
For a group that walked off Villanova’s field expecting the season to be over, the gift of a second opportunity is not overlooked.
“It’s a new lease on the 2022 finish,” Carty said.