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Villanova vs. Elon: Wildcat defense struggles, lose 19-14.

Kyle McCloskey showed a lot of promise, but the ‘Cats fell short.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Temple Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The #13 Villanova Wildcats, fresh off their bye week, took on the #10 Elon Phoenix on homecoming weekend, but came up short in a 19-14 loss.

Elon’s offense showed its firepower, gaining 474 yards of offense, 357 of which came through the air courtesy of Davis Cheek. Wide receiver Kortez Weeks finished with 205 receiving yards.

Freshman quarterback Kyle McCloskey, after finishing the James Madison game, made his first career start for the Wildcats. The Wildcats moved the ball well during the first drive, and had a shot for a touchdown thanks to a trick play, but Tarius Phillip’s pass was just too long for wide receiver Zac Kerxton.

McCloskey showed promise, throwing for 137 yards on 9-20 passing, and rushing for 65 yards, leading the team.

Villanova totaled 249 yards of offense, with Aaron Forbes adding 40 yards on the ground. Head coach Mark Ferrante said it bluntly, “We don’t play consistently enough on offense to sustain drives.”

The Wildcats punted and on the ensuing Elon drive the Phoenix had a shot at a 38-yard field goal, but freshman Owen Johnson pushed it right, leaving the game scoreless.

Villanova had a quick three-and-out, giving Elon the ball on their own 30. The Phoenix drove to the Villanova 35, before quarterback Davis Cheek was intercepted by sophomore Dage Davis, the first pick of his career.

The Wildcat offense was able to take advantage of the turnover, just two plays later McCloskey hit running back Aaron Forbes for a 42-yard touchdown pass to give the ‘Cats a 7-0 lead after one quarter.

The ensuing Elon drive show the Phoenix go 78 yards in 11 plays and was capped off by a touchdown pass from Cheek to running back De’Sean McNair.

The Wildcat defense was able to keep the Phoenix running game in check without star Malcolm Summers, but Villanova really struggled to contain freshman wide receiver Kortez Weeks. In the first half alone, Weeks accounted for nine receptions, gaining 162 yards.

Weeks was a big part of the next Elon drive, which saw the Phoenix make their way to the Villanova three yard line. Elon came away scoreless, however, after senior Trey Johnson picked off Cheek.

The first half ended just two plays later, with Elon and Villanova tied at 7.

Despite the score, Villanova was out gained 257-142 in the first half, with 227 of those yards coming through the air.

Both defenses were strong to start the second half, the first four possessions all ended in punts.

Elon started their third drive of the quarter from their own 36, and started to move the ball. Two more completions to Weeks pushed the ball deep into Villanova territory, but the defense held the Phoenix out of the end zone. Owen Johnson made a 25 yard field goal this time around, giving Elon a 10-7 lead.

Villanova sped things up for the next drive, running the no-huddle a few times. McCloskey made multiple big plays, avoiding sacks and running for first downs. McCloskey just got off a pass to Taurus Phillps while being hit, and Phillips was able to find the end zone. The 24 yard pass put Villanova in front 14-10.

Elon responded early in the 4th quarter with a 4-play, 63 yard drive that ended with a 21 yard pass from Cheek to wide receiver Tre Marsh. Johnson missed the extra point, though, giving Elon a 16-14 edge.

The Elon defense shut down Villanova on the following drive, and Elon had a chance to put the game away. The Wildcat defense held, allowing only a 28 yard field goal putting Elon up 19-14.

Redshirt freshman Nwoola Awopetu had a huge return on the kickoff, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Phoenix 35. Aaron Forbes had a 12 yard run, putting Villanova at the Elon 23. The next play McCloskey threw up a pass to Kerxton, which originally looked like it was caught by Kerxton, but was ruled an interception. After review, the pass was ruled incomplete. McCloskey’s pass on 4th down hit the ground, giving Elon the ball with 3:13 left in the game.

Although only five penalties for 50 yards were called on Villanova, they came at very bad times throughout the game, which obviously for Coach Ferrante is a concern. “When we hurt ourselves even more with holding penalties, we’re not consistent enough to overcome 1st and 20’s, 2nd and 13’s, and so on.”

Villanova was able to force a third down with just over three minutes, but McNair rushed for 16 yards and a first down, effectively icing the game and giving Elon a 19-14 win.

Villanova falls to 4-4 on the season and 2-3 in the CAA. The Wildcats host Richmond next Saturday.