The Villanova Wildcats improved to 1-1 on Saturday, picking up their first win of the season in exciting fashion, 26-21 over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. The running game was dominant, lead by Javon White, who ran for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Aaron Forbes, who added 87 yards and a score of his own. All told Villanova had 396 rushing yards, and it would have been over 400 if not for a few Bednarczyk kneel downs to clinch the victory.
"I thought Lehigh played great," head coach Andy Talley stated. "We knew they would come in and give us their best game, which they did and we preached to the team, what they saw on tape against Monmouth, was not what we would see tonight.
"They gave us all we wanted and more. I was very impressed with them, they are well coached and they play hard. We have opportunities in the first half. We probably should've put 14 points on the board, but we didn't and the seven penalties were brutal, it really effected what we were trying to do."
The running game was the lone bright spot for the Wildcats in the first half. Senior back Javon White had 50 yards and a touchdown while sophomore Aaron Forbes added a 54 yard burst on his lone first half touch. Despite dominating the running game in the first half and a defense that continually had the Mountain Hawks in 3rd and long, Villanova was their own worst enemy. The Wildcats racked up seven penalties for 70 yards in the first half alone. In addition, the kicking game continued to struggle, missing both a field goal and an extra point.
In the second half, the running game continued to dominate as both Bednarczyk and White went over 100 yards. Bednarczyk would later take a few knees, dropping his rushing total. The defense was able to hold off a last minute Lehigh attack, holding them to just 9 yards on a 4th and 10 to all but secure victory for the Wildcats.
"In the second half, we got after it a lot more in terms of selling to our players that frankly we were a little embarrassing, and I told them that, at a very high voice level, and I never do that with a team, but it's almost anticipated when you come off a 1A game, you have to be up here just to survive and then you come back the next week no matter who you're playing and no matter how much you preach to them, there's a drop off," Talley noted. "I don't want to use that as an excuse, but it played into the way we played in the first half."
It was a hot and humid evening with temperatures around 90 degrees as the Villanova Wildcats and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks took the field Saturday night at Villanova Stadium. Lehigh won the coin toss and chose to differ to the second half, giving Villanova the ball to start the game. D'Andre Pollard returned the opening kick to the Nova 20 yard line to start the Nova offense, which quickly turned to the run game to start moving the ball.
Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk got things going early with a combination of carries and completions. A screen pass to wide-out Taurus Phillips for 11 yards brought the Wildcats into Villanova territory, but the Cats were soon in 3rd a long. Bednarczyk had a 20 yard scamper called back on 3rd and 6th on a holding call, and after an incomplete pass down the sideline, the Wildcats were forced to punt.
The Wildcat defense forced Lehigh into a quick 3 and out, forcing Lehigh to punt. A poor punt off the side of Ed Mish's foot gave the Wildcats the ball back at the Lehigh 47, giving Villanova an excellent chance to score early. Jarrett McClenton continued to be a big factor in the offense, as did Senior tailback Javon White. On 3rd and 1 at the Lehigh 26, backup QB Adeyemi DaSilva came in to run the Wildcat offense and pick up the first down.
Villanova continued to get hit with penalties, as a holding call brought back what would have been a 20 yard TD run by Javon White. Instead, he was taken down in the backfield on the very next play, giving Villanova 2nd and 18 from the Lehigh 28. Jarrett McClenton got wide open for what would have been the Wildcats first touchdown, but the pass was just a little too high and bounced off his fingertips. Nova had to settle for a 39 yard field goal attempt, but Gerard Smith missed wide left.
Penalty's continued to hit Nova hard, this time on the defensive side as a pass interference was called, saving the Mountain Hawks from a second straight three and out. But the Nova defense was relentless in their attack on Lehigh, and after two near picks they forced the Hawks to punt, giving the Wildcats the ball back at their own 20.
Villanova continued its rushing attack with a mix of White and McClenton, quickly gaining their 5th first down of the first quarter. But it was sophomore back Aaron Forbes who broke two tackles for a 54 yard scamper to get the ball down to the Lehigh 11. McClenton took it down to the 4, and from there Javon White was able to punch the ball in easily for Villanova's first offensive touchdown of the season and a 6 point lead. Gerard Smith's struggles continued however, as he missed the extra point.
Lehigh's offense continued to struggle against a staunch Villanova defense, but were finally able to pick up a first down on a scamper by QB Nick Shafnisky with everyone covered downfield. That seemed to spark the Lehigh offense, who were finally ale to move the ball into Nova territory as the first quarter came to a close.
Villanova's secondary continued to force Lehigh to move the ball on the ground to start the second, but Bragalone was able to evade blitzers and continue moving Lehigh's offense down the field. Yet another Villanova encroachment penalty gave Lehigh the ball inside the 20, and a quick slant pass soon had the Hawks at 1st and Goal at the Nova 9. A second encroachment penalty against the Cats brought the ball down to the 4, and two plays later Bragalone was able to muscle the ball into the end zone. Unlike Villanova, Lehigh easily converted the extra point to give them a 1 point lead with 12:46 left to play in the first half.
Even on special teams, penalties continued to hurt the Wildcats, negating a 30+ yard kick return and giving Nova the ball inside their own 20. But Javon White continued to be Villanova's work horse, bringing the Wildcats up to the 35. A Bednarczyk keeper for 11 yards gave the Cats another first down as the rushing attack already totaled 150 yards in the first half.
McClenton continued to play a big part in the running game, pushing the ball back into Lehigh territory. On 3rd and 4, Bednarczyk completed a pass to tight end Ryan Bell, but it was then fumbled forward and out of bounds, forcing the Wildcats into a 4th and 1. Javon White was unable to convert, and to make matters worse, a Villanova personal foul on White gave Lehigh the ball at the Villanova 40.
Villanova's defense continued to play well, but were unable to stop the Mountain Hawks on 4th and 2 as Lehigh continued to take advantage of their momentum. But Villanova's defense refused to relent, and Rasaan Stewart came up with his first career interception to prevent a TD and give Villanova the ball back at their own 2 yard line. Unfortunately, the Cats were not able to do much with that field position, and were forced to punt. This time it was Lehigh with a costly penalty, turning what would have been a short field in Villanova territory into 1st down at their own 37.
"We just found the holes in our coverage [at halftime]," linebacker Austin Calitro stated. "We just had some weak spots in our coverage, but we buckled down, and knew what they were doing ahead of time."
Dom Bragalone continued to be a one man wrecking crew against the Nova front line, breaking into Nova territory. Nick Shafnisky balanced the run game with a solid passing attack, and found wide-out Troy Pelletier open on the sideline for a 25 yard gain and a 1st down at the Villanova 6 yard line. Shafnisky would scamper into the end zone on the next play, and the extra point would give Lehigh a 14-6 lead with just over 2 minutes left in the first half.
Villanova would start their finally drive of the half at their 27 yard line, and Bednarczyk would try to get things going through the air. But with nothing open downfield, a scramble and a sack had Nova in a quick 3rd and 10. After some dancing in the pocket, the Nova QB was forced to throw the ball out of bounds and bring on the punting team. A fair catch would give Lehigh the ball at their own 16, where they would kneel down and head into the locker room leading the Wildcats 14-6.
Lehigh would start the second half at their own 25, and get right back to work on the ground with Shafnisky running for 6 yards. Villanova would commit its 8th penalty and 3rd encroachment to give Lehigh a first down. Lehigh continued to use the screen pass to beat Nova on the outside, fighting into Villanova territory. Bragalone would break off at 20 yard run, and just like that Lehigh was inside Villanova's 25 yard line. But Villanova was able to hold Lehigh there, and after a missed 40 yard field goal, Villanova took over on downs.
Bednarczyk started off Villanova's first possession of the second half with his own QB keeper, and Taurus Phillips took a wide receiver sweep another 7 yards for the first down. Bednarczyk kept the ball again for a 19 yard scramble into Lehigh territory, and Javon White added another 18 yards as the running game kept tearing down the field. McClenton took a pair of carries inside the Lehigh 20 to give Villanova 3rd and 1 at the 19. Aaron Forbes continued his spectacular night, taking just his second carry of the game 19 yards for a touchdown. Bednarczyk would run in the 2-point conversion to tie the game up 14-14 with 7:59 left in the third quarter.
"To our credit, the second half we stuck to the ground game, Zach did a great job running the ball, our two running backs rushed for over 200 yards and our offensive line moved people off the ball," Talley stated.
Lehigh would respond to the quick Nova score with their short passing game, easily negating Villanova's pass rush. But in their haste, Lehigh picked up a false start and faced 1st and 15 from their own 34. That didn't phase the Mountain Hawks as they threw for an 18 yard gain into Villanova territory on the next play. But now it was Lehigh's turn to get the penalty bug, as they picked up a 10 yard holding penalty on first down. This time te penalty was too much, and a sack by Tanoh Kpassagnon forced Lehigh to punt.
Villanova would maintain its offensive momentum, as Taurus Phillips would catch a 22 yard pass followed by two Bednarczyk carries for 36 yards. Javon White would take the next carry 19 yards and give the Wildcats first and goal from the 1 yard line. This time Adeyemi DaSilva would keep the ball for the score out of the wildcat formation, putting Villanova back on top. But another botched extra point, this time a blocked attempt by Steve Weyler, kept the door open for Lehigh as Villanova lead by just 6 (14-20) with 2:25 left in the third.
Lehigh picked up their 3rd penalty of the quarter on the ensuing kick-off, this time a hold that gave them the ball at their own 15 yard line. The Mountain Hawks were able to pick up a 3rd and 1 on the ground, but would continue to struggle on early downs. Shafnisky had a man open on a bomb downfield, but just over threw him to bring up 3rd and 11. Nova's defense was able to hold strong and force Lehigh into punting as the third quarter came to a close.
Bednarczyk continued to be a running threat, picking up 17 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting him over 100 rushing yards for the game. Javon White would then take another pair of rushes into Lehigh territory, putting him over 100 yards as well. On 3rd and 12, Ryan Bell nearly had a terrific one handed grab for a first down, but he was unable to pull it in and Villanova was forced to punt. On the punt, Lehigh was able to get a piece of the ball, and would take over at their own 25 yard line.
Villanova's defense continued to play tight coverage, forcing Lehigh into short runs and quick passes. Lehigh was still able to convert on 3rd and 3 to wide receiver Troy Pelletier, giving him over 100 yards on the game. From there, Dom Bragalone continued his bruising style of running, and Lehigh continued to drive into Villanova territory. Play was stopped as Rasaan Stewart was shaken up after a vicious tackle, but he was able to walk off the field on his own. Villanova was able to force 3rd and 5 from the 11, but Shafnisky found Derek Knott at the goal line who was able to spin his way into the end zone. Lehigh would hit the extra point to retake the lead 21-20 with just over 8 minutes left in the game.
The Wildcats kept going with what worked, and Javon White was able to break off a 42 yard run to give the Cats 1st and 10 at the Lehigh 31. McClenton and Forbes pushed deeper into Lehigh territory, and with just over 5 minutes to go Nova had 3rd and 3 at the Lehigh 4 yard line. Adeyemi DaSilva would keep the ball out of the wildcat, and the Wildcats would call time out with a looming 4th and 1 at the Lehigh 2 yard line and 4:26 left to play. Javon White would break through the Lehigh front line and barely reach the end zone to give Villanova the lead. Nova would go for two, but this time Bednarczyk would be held short of the endzone. Nova lead 21-26 with 4:20 left in the game.
Lehigh came out after losing the lead and continued their short passing attack as Shafnisky eclipsed 200 yards passing for the game. But a botched snap that got by the Lehigh quarterback would lead to a sack and a loss of 14 yards, bringing up 2nd and 24. After a rocket pass over the middle for 14 yards, Lehigh faced 3rd and 10. They were just barely able to convert on a dump off pass to Bragalone for 10 yards. Lehigh continued to use short slants to move down the field, but were faced with another 3rd and 10, this time from the Villanova 31 yard line. Tanoh Kpassagnon was able to put pressure on the QB, forcing a 4th and 10. Nova's defense was able to bend but not break, holding Lehigh to a 9 yard reception and a turn over on downs with 54 seconds to play. Zach Bednarczyk would take three kneel downs to close out the game and the Villanova victory.
250 wins for Talley
The victory for Andy Talley was the 250th of the head coach's career, making him just one of four currently active coaches in the NCAA with as many career wins. He is one of just five football coaches to win 200 or more games at a single school. The milestone is a nice feather in Talley's cap for his last season on the Main Line.
"You know what, I didn't even know [it was the 250th win] actually," Talley stated. "They gave me the game ball after the game. It's a nice round figure and it kind of goes along with my last year here.
"I've really been blessed to stay at this school long enough with an administration and a group of athletes over time that could help you accumulate 250 victories."