By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
NEWARK, DE. — It was time for teams to make their closing statements to the jury on Saturday, with some teams making convincing arguments and others leaving a lot to be desired.
Sunday is judgement day for the Football Championship Subdivision as the 20-team NCAA Division I Football Championship is announced.
But in reality, the playoffs started on Saturday with a series of elimination games and rivalry contests around the country.
I was privileged to watch one of what is usually one of the top rivalry games around in person, the Battle of the Blue between Villanova and Delaware.
This year's showdown at Tubby Raymond Field proved to be anything other than competitive in the second half when Villanova piled 24 points on the Blue Hens for a stunning 41-10 victory that helped wrap up a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title for the Wildcats.
Villanova (8-3 overall, 6-2 in league) then took the CAA automatic bid to the playoff when Old Dominion beat James Madison in come-from-behind fashion on the road, 38-28.
"That was a pretty good closing statement," Wildcat coach Andy Talley said of Villanova's victory.
Poised redshirt-freshman quarterback John Robertson played like a senior, completing 15-of-21 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown and rushed 17 times for 134 yards and an 11-yard, fourth-quarter score that put the game away with 5:13 remaining.
"John is something of a phenom," said Talley. "We always knew he could run. We just didn't know how well he would be able to throw the ball. Today, he opened up the game with some really great passes."
Running behind some remarkable offensive line play, Kevin Monangai rushed 24 times for 146 yards and a seven-yard scoring burst in the second quarter that broke a 7-all tie.
Delaware (5-6, 2-6) showed some remarkable resilience to hang around as long as it did.
The Blue Hen defense dodged one first-half bullet when linebacker Jake Giusti forced a Monangai fumble at the goal line and recovered it in the end zone.
Villanova seemed capable of scoring on nearly every possession with its balanced offensive approach, but Delaware somehow left the first half trailing only 14-10.
Michael Johnson's 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown followed a 13-yard scoring strike from Robertson to Norman White in the first period, but the Blue Hens wouldn't get back into the end zone the rest of the game.
Delaware's offense, hampered by injuries for much of the season, had to settle for just three points on Sean Banner's 30-yard field goal after Monangai's tie-breaking TD when quarterback Trent Hurley hit receivers in the hands on back-to-back plays in the second period only to have Stephen Clark and Johnson drop sure touchdowns.
"Dropping two passes in the first half really hurt," said Delaware coach K.C. Keeler. "We had a chance to go in the locker room tied."
An even bigger momentum zapper occurred on the second-half kickoff when Banner pouched the ball over the front line of Villanova's return team. VU senior captain Ronnie Akins hesitated to go after the ball and when he finally did, he fumbled and the Blue Hens recovered their first onside kick in over 20 years.
"That gave us a chance to either tie the game, or take the lead," said Keeler. "When we recovered the onside kick, that should have given us great momentum. We had to score points there and when we didn't, it was a big momentum shift."
Akins made up for his miscue in a big way the rest of the game.
First he intercepted a pass in the end zone to kill a Delaware scoring threat as the Blue Hens threatened to cut into a 20-10 Villanova lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then Akins picked off another Hurley pass and raced 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 34-10 advantage with 3:47 to play.
On the next series, the desperate Hurley (23-of-35, 188 yards and three interceptions) tossed another interception and Eric Loper cut across the field on a brilliant 42-yard scoring return to make it a 31-point game at 41-10.
And it brought the gavel down on a fine closing statement for Villanova.