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Monday, May 17, 2021

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

It wasn’t exactly Moses parting the Red Sea, but, as miracles go, this was a pretty good one. It enabled the University of Delaware to win a football game it shouldn’t have won and now the Blue Hens are in a position few could have envisioned just a couple of weeks ago.

The Hens shocked Towson 32-31 on Saturday, scoring 15 points in the final 48 seconds to upset the No. 7 Tigers, a victory that propelled Delaware from 21st to 15th in the national rankings. And now Delaware (4-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) is right behind first-place Maine (5-0) in the CAA. Plus the Hens (7-2 overall) have positioned themselves to challenge for an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs.

None of this seemed possible, or at least probable, back in mid-October, and few thought this had the potential to be magical season for Delaware. It appeared the Hens were going to have a so-so season under new coach Dave Brock. It appeared a team that finished 5-6 and in eighth place in the CAA last year would use this season as a shake down for things to come as they learned a new system under a new leader.

That’s mainly because this is a not a flashy team with an NFL-bound quarterback and nothing they had done previous to Towson was all that impressive. Even though Delaware was successful early, it came against teams like Jacksonville, Delaware State and Wagner, while a 51-7 spanking at the hands of Navy humbled this group.

Then, after an impressive victory over James Madison, the Hens were spanked again, and this time by another CAA team – the 62-28 loss to Maine was another sign that this Delaware team was in rebuilding mode.

Then came another nondescript victory, over Albany, but at least the Hens were winning the games they were supposed to win and they had a decent record as they faced two big challenges on consecutive weeks – Towson and No. 23 William & Mary.

The Hens took care of the first challenge and this Saturday they’ll have a shot at the other one, and the game against William & Mary is huge in terms of an at-large bid. Maine appears to have the CAA title locked up, as it finishes with three teams (Albany, Rhode Island and New Hampshire) that have a combined record of 8-19. And even if the Black Bears stumble once in the last month of the season, they still have that impressive head-to-head tiebreaker with Delaware.

So it appears the Blue Hens will have to settle for an at-large bid and one thing that will help them is their remaining schedule. After William & Mary, they end the season with Richmond and Villanova, two teams with losing records. Two of those three games are at home and the other, the season finale against ‘Nova, is at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. If the Hens win all three they’ll finish 10-2 and that will be hard for the selection committee to ignore.

One thing that won’t help the Hens as much as it might have in the past is their conference. The CAA is still the best league in the land, but it’s no longer the dominant force it once was. The CAA has six teams in the Top 25 and that’s not bad, but just one team in the Top 10 (No. 8 Maine) and that’s not great.

Still, the CAA is a respected conference and Delaware is a respected program and that should be enough for the Blue Hens to make it back to the playoffs if they take care of business in the final three games. And if that does happen, the Hens will look back at those miraculous 48 seconds against Towson as the reason why.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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