After struggling to get the passing game going last week against Lehigh, the Villanova Wildcats found their groove early against the Towson Tigers. Zach Bednarczyk spread the ball around in a strong aerial attack in the first half, and the defense locked in after the intermission to help the ‘Cats take home a 40-21 victory in their CAA conference opener.
“Great team coached by a great coach,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “On the plus side, the great news for me is that I get to go to bed tonight knowing that I never have to coach against Andy Talley again. God bless him, and I'll be the first guy beating down the doors, 'when's he getting in the Hall of Fame.’"
"We needed to put a good package together against Towson, of run and pass, and I thought our defense would do a good job against their running game,” Villanova’s Andy Talley stated. "On the defensive side of the ball we didn't give them any big plays, they had to earn everything that they got."
"Zach had a brilliant game if you take a look at his stats,” Talley added.
Bednarczyk was 20-for-26 passing, with 230 yards and three touchdowns in the air — two to slot receiver Taurus Phillips.
"I think I said in the press conference a year ago that he'd get a lot better, and he did,” Ambrose said about the VU signal-caller. “I'm impressed by him, I also wanted to keep him on the ground to let him know that he's not John Robertson."
The defense piled on with a pair of endzone interceptions in the fourth quarter to quell a late threat from the Tigers. Rob Rolle took his interception all the way back to the house for a score — the longest interception return in school history at 100 yards.
“I thought that we could keep Darius Victor from running all over us, but you've got to give him his yards -- he's a great back -- and it worked out kind of how I thought it would,” Talley said. The Towson tailback did accumulate 115 yards against the Wildcats, but didn’t have many huge breakaway plays.
After a long return into Villanova territory on the opening kickoff, Towson marched 47 yards on 10 plays to score. The Wildcats defense had issues with tackling on that drive, but their offense came to life, going on an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive of their own to tie things up; capped with a 16 yard touchdown pass from Bednarczyk to Taurus Phillips.
The ‘Cats scored again on their second drive, after turning Towson over on a strip sack, going down to the Towson 4-yard line before the quarter ended. After the break, Bednarczyk tossed his second TD pass of the game, hitting tailback Aaron Forbes for the score, making it 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Bednarczyk would go on to hit Phillips again in the second quarter for a 21 yard touchdown to go ahead 20-7, after the point after attempt by Gerrard Smith failed. Towson answered this one, however, with a 13-play, 82-yard drive that ended with quarterback Ellis Knudson carrying the ball over the goal line himself to make it 20-14. Not to be outdone, the Wildcats drove 90 yards on the ensuing possession, on 13 plays, to go ahead 26-14 on a one-yard Javon White run; leaving the Tigers little time to move before the half.
In just the first half, Bednarczyk had passed for 190 yards on 16-of-20 passing and tossed all three of his touchdowns for the day. The sophomore quarterback had looked worlds apart from the player who had thrown multiple picks against Towson a year ago.
"If you take a look at who had the receptions; Ryan Bell, first year player with two receptions; Zac Kerxton, a freshman with three receptions; Brandon Chadbourn, a freshman three receptions; and then Taurus an older guy having seven,” Talley explained about his offense’s growth. “So you are starting to see what the group is around you as you come out of the Pitt game and how you can grow with them. Last week we struggled a bit in the pass game because we were still in that process, but today I think we found a formula of guys that we can go to now."
After a scoreless third quarter, the Wildcats defense faced a goal line stand early in the fourth quarter. Backed up against their own goal line, Trey Johnson made a read on Knudson’s pass in the endzone, grabbing the interception and after briefly looking for a route to run it out, took the touchback to give ‘Nova the ball back at their own 20. A few drives later, the ‘Cats took the ball 29 yards on 5 plays to score again on another White rush.
Towson finished the game strong, driving again down to the Villanova goal line on the ensuing possession. This time, the Wildcats safety Rolle was the one who jumped the route and grabbed a hold of an interception. Rolle found a seam and broke loose out of the endzone with his defensive teammates setting up blocks along the way as he returned it for the score. The kick was good and the ‘Cats had a comfortable cushion at 40-14.
The Tigers weren’t finished though. They ran 11 more plays for 83 yards to score a late game touchdown — on a Knudson pass. They attempted an onside kickoff, but Villanova’s Shayne Jones recovered the ball, and the Wildcats were able to end the game.
"This game wasn't an easy win, we were still in arms length at the end of the third quarter.”
Villanova was ahead in total yardage at the half, 258-173, but a few long Towson drives in the second half helped the Tigers to edge them out with 393 yards of total offense to Villanova’s 382. The Tigers passed for 238 yards to Villanova’s 230, and ran for 155 to the ‘Cats 152. The endzone interceptions neutralized that advantage in yardage.
Villanova football improved to 2-1 on the season, and is 1-0 now in conference play. They take the short trip to Easton, Pennsylvania next weekend to take on the Lafayette Leopards in their final non-conference game before returning to the CAA slate.