The Wildcats of Villanova took on the Wildcats of the University of New Hampshire in a crucial Colonial Athletic Association game on Saturday, with playoff implications riding on the outcome, both coaches believing that seven wins will be necessary to make the playoffs. Villanova, coached by Andy Talley, began the day with an overall record of 6 -3 (4-2 in the CAA). UNH, coached by Sean McDonnell, started the day 5 -4 (3 -3 in the CAA). Ninth ranked Villanova was seeking its 16th consecutive home win.
Prior to the game, the senior members of the Villanova team, many of whom played a large role in helping the Cats win the 2009 FCS Championship, were honored in a pre-game ceremony.
For the seventh consecutive game, Villanova was without the services of star player Matt Szczur, who is recovering from an ankle injury.
On a day when Villanova dominated the time-of- possession and statistically outgained its rival, it could not draw even with University of New Hampshire at the end of the game. UNH, behind the outstanding running of Dontra Peters (12 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown), and the clutch passing of QB R.J. Toman (11- 22-for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns) beat Villanova 31 -24, in a wild game that was not finally decided until the final 13 seconds when QB Chris Whitney was sacked and fumbled at the UNH 9 yardline. Cody Muller recovered for UNH to put an end to the drama.
Villanova contolled the ball for slightly over 38 minutes, netting 450 yards on a staggering 92 offensive plays. By contrast, the UNH Wildcats had the ball for 21 minutes and 55 seconds, and gained 368 yards net on 59 plays.Villanova had 32 firstdowns compared to 15 for UNH.
Villanova began the game in ragged fashion with Whitney fumbling the ball on the first play from scrimmage. UNH recovered at the Nova 24 yardline. UNH did not take advantage of the great field position and had to punt. New Hampshire did take the lead on its next possession when Peters scampered 51 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Angelo Babbaro fumbled and once again UNH pounced on the ball, this time at the VU 16 yardline. Mike Perkins was credited with the recovery . Five plays later A.J. DeLago kicked a 22 yard field goal to make it 10 -0 in favor of the visitors.
Villanova finally got some momentum going late in the first quarter and began a march covering 86 yards in 17 plays that ended with a 10 yard touchdown run by Babbaro at the 10:40 mark of the 2nd quarter. Mark Hamilton kicked the extra point to make it 10-7. UNH promptly drove down the field in 7 plays covering 64 yards and scored on a 10 yard run by Toman. The home team returned the favor and scored on its next possession on a 29 yard field goal by Mark Hamilton, the first of his career.
Thirteen seconds later, UNH scored again on a bomb from Toman to Joey Orlando covering 56 yards.Villanova closed out the scoring in the 1st half driving 60 yards in 6 plays with Whitney running it in from the 5 yard line. The half ended with UNH holding on to its lead 24-17.
The second half began promisingly for Villanova when Martel Moody picked off a Toman pass and returned it 31 yards into UNH territory. A penalty on the interception against Villanova set them back to the UNH 49 yardline. However, the Cats failed to capitalize on the opportunity and Hamilton’s 40 yard field goal try was blocked by UNH’s Steve Young. UNH then boosted its lead to 31-17 when Toman threw a 6 yard pass to Terrance Fox for a touchdown.
Villanova scored early in the final quarter on a 2 yard run by Whitney, to make it a 31-24 game.Villanova teased the home crowd by driving deep into UNH territory several times in the fourth quarter but could not score. Consequently, the visitors were able to breath a sigh of relief when Whitney’s fumble in the final seconds cost Villanova a last minute opportunity to send the game into overtime.
On the day, Whitney, the senior quarterback, ran for 88 yards on 24 carries and 2 touchdowns. Aaron Ball, the senior running back, contributed 82 yards on 19 carries, and Babbaro, also a senior, gained 43 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries. Norman White lead the Cats with 6 receptions for 67 yards , Dorian Wells caught 5 passes for 78 yards. Whitney threw 36 passes, completing 16 for 192 yards. The leading defenders for Villanova were Marquis Kirkland, the senior linebacker, with 10 tackles and a sack. Antoine Lewis, the defensive lineman, had 9 tackles and a sack.
For Villanova, it all comes down to next week’s match up, their last of the season, in Newark, Delaware against the Blue Hens. If the Wildcats are victorious, the possibility of making the playoffs and defending its FCS championship is still alive. A loss will end the Cats season.