DOYLESTOWN (PA) – The Delaware Valley University football team's 2018 season came to an end Saturday afternoon when a 65-yard pick-six with under a minute to play in regulation by Muhlenberg College's Nick Sirico sealed a 20-13 victory for the visitors, and moved them into round two of the NCAA Championship playoffs.
The Mules improved to 10-1 and advanced to play Randolph-Macon College who upset John Carroll University earlier in the day. Muhlenberg will likely play host to the Yellow Jackets, but will have to wait until Sunday to find out for sure.
DelVal finished the season with a 9-2 record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC), and its second consecutive league championship.
The Aggies scored 13 unanswered points in a span of 3:28 in the first quarter, but were never able to find the end zone again the rest of the day.
DelVal's defense held Muhlenberg to a 3-and-out on its first possession and then Kahleel Pettey picked off a Mike Hnatkowsky pass at the Muhlenberg 45-yard line on the Mules next drive. The Aggies capitalized just three plays later as Darden hit John Graham in stride for a 35-yard touchdown on the near sideline. Nick Restaino's point after attempt was blocked, but DelVal held a 6-0 lead.
The Aggie offense went back to work after another 3-and-out for Muhlenberg, and on 2nd-and-4, Darden slung a pass out to Juwan Manigo in the flat and Manigo made a number of defenders miss as he took it 53-yards down the sideline and inside the Mules' 10-yard line. Two plays later, Darden found Dan Allen in the end zone for a 6-yard school and Restaino's points after made it a 13-0 game.
The score remained that way into the second quarter until Joseph O'Hagan reeled in a deflected pass from Darden for an interception near midfield. Six plays later, Hnatkowsky connected with Thomas Murphy for a 20-yard score and a 13-7 ball game with just under 10 minutes left in the half.
Later in the second quarter, the Mules flipped the field and forced DelVal to punt from its own end zone. Gabe Robles netted a 17-yard return and Muhlenberg was setup to start its drive at the Aggies 30-yard line. Eight players later, Todd Spirt hit a 25-yard field goal to make it 13-10.
DelVal took over with 2:20 left before the break and advanced into Mules territory before Darden was injured on the near sideline and did not return for the rest of the half. Sophomore Anthony Fontana stepped in and immediately found Marquis Ellis for 24 yards down the sideline at the Muhlenberg 16. However, two plays later, a fade attempt to the corner of the end zone was intercepted and it remained a three-point game at the half.
The Mules got the ball to start the second half and a 34-yard catch and run by Max Kirin quickly put them in the red zone. They managed to get to first-and-goal at the DelVal seven yard line, but a tackle for loss on a run play, and two incomplete passes, forced another Spirt field goal attempt. Once again he connected from 25 yards to tie the game at 13-13 where it remained until the fourth quarter.
Early in the final stanza, Aggies safety Blaine Netterman picked off a deflected pass from Hnatkowsky and returned it into Muhlenberg territory, but an illegal block brought it back and DelVal started the drive from its own 43. The drive stalled and the Aggies punted back to the Mules.
Muhlenberg once again found itself with a first-and-goal opportunity after a 54-yard completion to Max Kirin and a pair of 11-yard runs from Riggio. However, the DelVal defense withstood the test once more as it stuffed a run by Riggio and a run by James Diggs, and then benefited from a personal foul against the Mules that backed them up to outside the 20. The Mules went for it on fourth and goal from the 21-yard line, but got nowhere and the Aggies took over with nine minutes left in regulation.
After a couple DelVal first downs, Darden's pass attempt was intercepted by John Washington at the Aggies 32-yard line and he returned it inside the 20.
For the third straight drive, DelVal's defense found itself defending its own red zone and for the third straight time, it was equal to the task. On the second play from scrimmage Billy Walsh forced a fumble inside the five, and Vincent DiLeo pounced on it at the three to give the ball back to his offense.
The teams exchanged three-and-outs and the Aggies began their drive from their own 10-yard line with 1:40 on the clock. Darden then found Allen for 18 yards, Manigo for 17 and Allen Again for 15 yards and a first down at the Mules' 40 yard line with 48 seconds to play. Darden dropped back to pass again and looked for the out-route on the far sideline, but Sirico jumped the route and took it 65 yards the other way for the game-winning score.
The two squads combined for 804 yards of total offense (417 DelVal, 387 Muhlenberg) with the Aggies totaling 309 yards through the air to the Mules 286.
Darden was 24-for-46 for 285 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions and was sacked twice. He also ran the ball 14 times for 31 yards. Manigo caught eight balls for 116 yards and Allen and Graham each finished with just under 40 yards receiving and one score apiece. Nigro also carried the ball 14 times and netted 55 yards.
Defensively, Walsh led all players in the game with 14 tackles and two tackles for loss with a forced fumble. Anthony Nobile followed with 10 tackles, two for loss while Khaleel Pettey and Anthony Todesco each tallied nine points, but Pettey added a pick. MAC Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Nobile, finished with six tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss to up his single-season sack record total to 15.5.
Hnatkowsky threw the ball 35 times and completed 14 passes for 286 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. Kirin had a big day as he reeled in six catches for 155 yards and Thomas Murphy added three catches for 64 yards and a score. Riggio toted the rock 15 times for 63 yards and digs added 16 carries for 41 yards. Jack Fitzsimmons paced the defense with 11 tackles including one tackle for loss. Frankie Feaster finished with just three tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.