|Delaware Valley athietlcs photo
By Jason Bowen
At 5-10, 210, Dashawn Darden isn’t your classic looking quarterback.
The Aggies have had some excellent signal callers, including Adam Knoblauch, Mike Isgro and Aaron Wilmer, since the program’s renaissance in 2003. But with Delaware Valley entering the NCAA D-III playoffs as a No. 1 seed, perhaps no quarterback in the program’s history has led the seventh-ranked Aggies (10-0) to a more dominant regular season.
“We’ve had some good QBs here, but he’s just a winner,” said coach Duke Greco. “He does whatever it takes. He does so much that stats don’t show.”
Last Saturday against Widener with the MAC championship and automatic bid on the line, it was Darden’s feet that were needed.
When MAC offensive player of the year Devauntay Ellis went down midway through the second quarter with an injury, Darden picked up the slack with his legs. The junior rushed 17 times for 117 yards with four touchdown runs.
“Last week, it was him running the football,” Greco said. “Him turning into Tim Tebow and getting it done. That’s what it took to win, so that’s what he did.”
Darden only threw the ball seven times in the Aggies’ 47-13 victory, including a 25-yard touchdown pass. For the season, he has completed 125 of 221 passes for 1632 yards with 20 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. On the ground he has added 575 yards and seven scores.
There have been a few games where Darden hasn’t reached 100 yards passing this season. But since earning the starting job midway through his freshman year in 2015, the junior has had an uncanny knack for making the clutch play with his arm or legs.
During that freshman year, he threw game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown passes to beat Albright and Lebanon Valley. The Aggies won four of his five starts and an ECAC bowl game.
As a sophomore, he guided Delaware Valley to a 9-2 record and a Centennial-MAC bowl victory while passing for over 1800 yards and rushing for more than 500.
In their season opener win over Wesley, Darden threaded a pair of 40-yard touchdown passes. Since that game Del Val has rolled to nine more victories with no opponent finishing with 20 points. That included a 357-yard, four-touchdown pass performance against King’s.
“He’s unselfish. He doesn’t care about anything but winning, to me, that’s his best trait,” Greco added. “Since he’s been here I think he has three losses as a starter. For quarterbacks, that’s how I judge them.”
The ability extend plays with his legs, carry the ball like a running back and make the clutch pass has given the Aggie offense great versatility.
“Week to week people play us differently,” Greco said. “The last three weeks people have been playing the pass and we’ve run the ball effectively, but before that when people try to take Devauntay away, Dashawn can make the throws.”
The status of Ellis is still uncertain for this week’s first round game with Western New England, so the pressure will even more on Darden and the Aggie defense if the senior running back is out.
The Del Val defense is currently third in the nation in scoring defense and ninth in total defense. The ability of their offense to hold on to the football and turn over opponents has been another key to the team’s success this season.
“Statistically none of those guys are through the roof because we have a bunch of guys that can play,” Greco said. “It’s a great group. It’s an unselfish group. They are having a great year. They’ve been consistent.”
With the No. 1 seed, Greco is well aware of the target that comes with it. Western New England has been to the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Last year, the Golden Bears defeated Husson, before giving No. 1 seed Alfred a tight game in the second round.
They’re a well-coached and an experienced playoff team. They’ve been in before. They’ve proven they can win games in the playoffs. It’s going to be a really good test.
“It’s win or go home so every week you need to play with same intensity and play our best no matter who we have. We need to be focused and take care of business.”
First-round playoff games
Western New England (8-2) at Delaware Valley (10-0): The Golden Bears have won seven straight after a 1-2 start. Like Del Val, WNE doesn’t beat itself. They have the third-fewest turnovers in D-III. Their two losses are two fellow playoff teams Springfield (35-21) and RPI (31-14). Khalil Roane also helped pick up the slack for the Aggies by rushing for more than 100 yards against Widener.
Plymouth State (9-1) at Brockport (10-0): The Golden Eagles have been banged up the past couple of weeks with quarterback Joe Germinerio and running back Justin Morrison out of the lineup. Even without the pair, they have enough skill players to make things tough on Panthers, including receiver Daquan Hubbard, who leads the nation in yards per catch. The defense is stifling, leading the nation in sacks and second in run defense. Plymouth State plays pretty good defense too, but rank 223rd in total offense.
Frostburg State (9-1) at Wittenberg (10-0): The Bobcats are making their first playoff appearance since 1993. To extend that stay, they’ll need to be more consistent on offense than they’ve been the past couple of weeks. Niles Scott is one of the best interior linemen in the country, with nine sacks. Receiver Sergio Andino has nine touchdown receptions in the last five games.
RPI (8-2) at Wesley (9-1): The Engineers are in for the first time since 2007. They’ll face a tough test in the Wolverines, who have won 12 straight first round games since 2005. RPI is second in D-III in turnovers gained. Wesley runner EJ Lee has 10 straight 100-yard games and has scored 21 touchdowns.
ECAC Bowl games
Merchant Marine (5-4) vs. Buffalo State (6-4)
Salisbury (7-3) vs Ithaca (7-3)
Stevenson (6-4) at Alfred (7-3)
Centennial-MAC Bowl Games
Susquehanna (7-3) at Albright (8-2)
Widener (7-3) at Franklin & Marshall (9-1)
New York State Bowl
Cortland (6-4) at Union (7-3)