For the first time in a dozen years, Delaware Stadium will host the fall playoffs.
How’s that for a throwback Saturday?
Despite a horrific loss at Villanova that could have ended the season, Delaware (7-4) hosts St. Francis (9-2) in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision Tournament, one at 2 p.m. Saturday Postseason Reward, which has been the mission of every UD Season for the past 50 years.
“There was something very special about the elation that erupted in the building for the final hour,” Delaware first-year coach Ryan Carty said this afternoon from his office at the Carpenter Center.
A first-round win would send the Blue Hens into a knockout round at South Dakota State (10-1), where the Hens lost an FCS semifinals in Spring 2021.
Delaware defeated St. Francis 27-10 last season in the schools’ only previous meeting.
The field for the 24-team tournament was announced on ESPNU early Sunday afternoon. Delaware was one of the five Colonial Athletic Association selected teams, along with automatic qualifiers William & Mary, co-champions New Hampshire, Richmond and Elon.
CURSE CONTINUES:With NCAA tournament berth available, Delaware once again can’t beat Villanova
Delaware was selected despite losing Saturday’s regular season finale in Villanova 29-26, where a second blocked punt in a row positioned the Wildcats for the winning touchdown with 1-11 remaining. That jeopardized Delaware’s postseason hopes enough that the team didn’t gather to see the pick. But the players were at the Carpenter Center for a team lunch and meetup at 1 p.m. watching on their phones, leading to an impromptu celebration.
“I felt bad that we couldn’t prove to the rest of the country how good we thought we were [at Villanova]’ said Carty, not expecting the Hens to be elected. “Now we get the chance.”
Delaware has lost four of its last six and two in a row, falling 21-13 to Richmond last Saturday. The Spiders kicked the go-ahead field goal four seconds from time after Delaware was stopped at the UR 7 with 1:23 to go.
But Delaware was still considered playoff-worthy as its other losses went to playoff-tied William & Mary, Elon and Richmond. The Hens also had a very valuable season-opening win at Navy at the FBS level. The Mids (4-7) won 17-14 in 17th-place Central Florida on Saturday, likely giving Delaware’s candidacy a boost.
Losses to other bubble teams on Saturday also aided Delaware’s chances. FCS Tournament Committee Chairman Jermaine Truax, Bucknell’s athletic director, suggested on ESPNU that Montana (7-4) snagged the last available spot with CAA member Rhode Island defeating Delaware 42-21 among those who were ahead of the game.
“It’s a new season,” Carty said. “…We were four or five games away from 10-1 and we weren’t, however, and that’s football, that’s sport. So if things hadn’t gone the way they did today, there would have been reasons and it would have been on us, and we take responsibility for that.
NCAA BRACKET: Look where the chickens are
“But the fact that the committee saw that we’re probably one of the top 24 teams in the country is certainly something we’re excited about and we’re very excited and proud of it. We are ready to show the committee and the country that they made the right decision.”
Only the top eight playoff teams are seeded. You have byes in the first round. The FCS title game will be held on January 8th at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
The other 16 teams are bracketed where possible, considering geographic proximity. The field includes 11 automatic conference champion qualifiers and 13 at-large selections.
Delaware finished sixth with Towson and Villanova in the 13-team CAA.
The NCAA introduced championship playoffs for their minor division schools beginning in 1973 when Delaware was in the brand new Division II. The Blue Hens were promoted to Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1980. Delaware made the NCAA playoffs 20 times from 1973 to 2010, their longest drought being three seasons from 1983 to 1985.
Delaware only returned in 2018 when it lost a first-round game to former CAA rival James Madison. Delaware had also lost to Villanova in the regular-season finals that season, finishing 7-4, threatening its playoff chances.
THE BEST OF THE BEST:Delaware’s all-time best 16 teams
But in what certainly stirred nostalgia for the program’s past accomplishments, Delaware made it to the NCAA semifinals for the 11th time in the spring 2021 season, replacing the fall 2020 schedule erased by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hens were undefeated until a 33-3 loss at South Dakota State, losing in the championship a week later to Sam Houston, where Carty was offensive coordinator under former Hens coach KC Keeler.
Delaware opened the 2021 Spring Playoffs, which featured 16 teams, at Delaware Stadium with a 19-10 win over Sacred Heart. This is the only home playoff game since Delaware defeated Georgia Southern 27-10 in the semifinals on December 18, 2010.
Delaware won the FCS championship in 2003 when Carty was a backup quarterback, losing in title games to Eastern Kentucky in 1982, to Appalachian State in 2007, and to Eastern Washington in 2010. Previously, Delaware reached three Division II finals, beating Youngstown State in 1979 after falling to Central Michigan in 1974 and Eastern Illinois in 1978.
Four previous Delaware national soccer championships in what was then the College Division were won via wire polls in 1946, 1963, 1971, and 1972.
“Certainly, season two doesn’t come naturally,” said Carty, who was also an offensive coordinator on New Hampshire’s semifinal teams in 2013 and 2014. “If you get the chance, it’s very special for the program, for the community, and for this university.”
Have an idea for a compelling local sports story, or is there an issue that deserves public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at [email protected] and follow @kevintresolini on Twitter. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.