The program-record drought is over.
Delaware will be playing playoff football for the first time since the 2010 season, when the Blue Hens lost in the national championship game to Eastern Washington in heartbreaking fashion, 20-19.
The Blue Hens (7-4, 5-3) will visit a familiar foe, the James Madison Dukes (8-3, 6-2), Saturday, Nov. 24 in the first round of the 24-team FCS playoffs. The announcement was made as part of the FCS Selection Show on ESPNU early Sunday afternoon.
Teams from the same conference are not paired up in the first round of the tournament unless they did not play each other in the regular season. Delaware last played James Madison in 2017 at Delaware Stadium, a 20-10 Dukes win on a windy afternoon.
Delaware hasn’t defeated James Madison since 2014 in a 30-23 victory led by quarterback Trent Hurley’s 295 passing yards and three touchdowns.
JMU had won a CAA-record 20 consecutive conference games (22 if you count the postseason) before losing to Elon 27-24 on October 6. The Dukes won the 2016 national championship and three conference championships from 2015-2017.
The winner will visit No. 8 Colgate in the second round.
It comes after Delaware lost to Villanova, 42-21, in its regular season finale. The loss, the Blue Hens’ second straight, put Delaware’s playoff standing in question. Given the down year experienced by many of the FCS’ typically strong conferences and the CAA’s parody this season, Delaware’s resume ended up being more than enough to secure a playoff spot. Three teams with six wins made the tournament.
Last year, in a stronger season for FCS play, Delaware was left out of the playoffs with the same record after experiencing a similarly painful loss to Villanova in the final game of its regular season.
A record six teams made it from the CAA, led by conference champion Maine (8-3, 7-1), who made it as the seventh seed and will have a first-round bye. Towson (7-4, 5-3), Stony Brook (7-4, 5-3) and Elon (6-4, 4-3) also made the playoffs.
Delaware is on its only two-game losing streak of the season. The Blue Hens have been outscored 59-24 and outgained 859-541.
Delaware enters the week of playoff preparation with uncertainties at quarterback. Starter Pat Kehoe left the game against Villanova in the first half with concussion symptoms and did not return. Delaware Head Coach Danny Rocco revealed postgame that Kehoe had also been playing with a partially torn ACL, an injury that dates back to Delaware’s game against New Hampshire on October 20.
Redshirt freshman Nolan Henderson received the bulk of the playing time in Kehoe’s absence, throwing for 152 yards on 12-20 passing. Henderson also left the game at the end of the first half, but returned for the second series of the third quarter. By the end of the game he was visibly limping. Appalachian State transfer J.P. Caruso, who started Delaware’s final five games in 2017, entered as the third quarterback. He completed three of six passes and led a promising drive at the end of the first half that ended in an interception.
Leading rusher Kani Kane did not receive a carry against Villanova and only played a handful of snaps. He was spelled by Dejoun Lee, who carried 14 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and Penn State transfer Andre Robinson. Robinson played the bulk of the fourth quarter when Delaware fell behind by multiple touchdowns.
Defensive lineman Cam Kitchen left the game with an injury and did not return. Linebacker Ray Jones left with an injury as well, and was replaced by freshman Kedrick Whitehead, but did return in the second half.
Nasir Adderley and Ray Jones opened the game as Delaware’s primary kick returners for the first time this season (in place of Lee and Vinny Papale). On the game’s opening kickoff Adderley, it appeared, field the kick off a bounce, left the end zone and then returned and was tackled inside the goal line for a safety. The play was overturned after a replay review. Adderley averaged just 14.3 yards on his four returns.
Defensive back Justis Henley rotated in at cornerback for one of the first times this season. Delaware started Tenny Adewusi and K.C. Hinton, but also brought in Nijuel Hill for a couple of series, who opened the season as a starter. Resistance from all members of the secondary was nearly non-existent, as Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk went 12-22 for 269 yards and a touchdown. It was the most passing yards Delaware’s defense has given since Richmond backup Joe Mancuso put up 489 passing yards against the Blue Hens, and the third-most allowed this season.
Villanova running back Aaron Forbes also had his way. After gaining 140 yards against the Blue Hens on 13 carries in 2017, Forbes put on a eerily similar performance racking up 138 yards on 24 carries Saturday. He scored three touchdowns and also had three catches for 55 yards.
Delaware finished the regular season with an average of 3.0 yards per rush. That number is down from 4.2 a season ago and 5.2 in 2016. Delaware’s third-down conversion percentage plummeted from 42 percent in 2017 to 36 percent in 2018.
Delaware averaged 202.7 passing yards per game this season, a massive improvement from last season’s mark of 124.5.
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