An 80-degree day and a 32, 357-person crowd at Lincoln Financial Field set the scene for the next chapter in the budding Villanova and Temple rivalry. Temple fans decked out in red Owls’ gear roared as the home team took to the field before kickoff with Stella, the team’s live Owl, looking on from the sideline. The ‘Cats received a less-than welcoming entrance as the stadium mellowed out significantly for the visiting team.
The ‘Cats looked to avenge their 16-13 loss to the Owls last season and did so in dramatic fashion, winning 19-17. Both the defense and offense made game-altering plays in the fourth quarter to keep Villanova alive. A late interception by Elijah Trent sealed the deal and the Cats now own the series 17-16-2. But this was no easy feat.
Temple won the toss and elected to defer. Gametime.
Villanova struck first on a one-yard touchdown pass from Zach Bednarczyk to Ryan Bell, a 4:07 minute drive consisting of 8 plays and 70 yards to set the tone for the game. Big plays from Aaron Forbes and Bell helped march the ‘Cats downfield. The ‘Cats were a perfect three-for-three on thirds downs in the first quarter.
Temple had no answer for Villanova’s run-game. The ‘Cats got behind the run which tallied 151 yards on the ground. Villanova’s strong offensive line held it down to allow the run-game to flourish.
Aaron Forbes ran over the Temple defense exploding for 111 yards rushing, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Forbes was over 100 yards for the fourth time in his career.
“They did a good job,” said Temple head coach Geoff Collins. “They were motioning and shifting, which they haven’t done a lot of in previous years. Motioning and shifting to create two-by-two, three-by-one and having a good plan in the run-game.”
If health was a concern for the ‘Cats in the season opener, it certainly did not look like it. The ‘Cats etched 405 total yards in the books. Quarterback Bednarczyk threw for 254 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack. Bednarczyk escaped pressure in the first quarter launching the ball to Brandon Chadbourn for 17 yards and the score, improving the ‘Cats’ lead to 13-3 after a failed point after attempt.
At the end of the first quarter, strong safety Julian Williams was called for targeting disqualified from the game. An untimed down for Temple resulted in an incomplete pass.
Though the ‘Cats held Temple to a field goal in the first quarter, the Owls would not stay quiet for long. A blocked field goal by defensive end Quincy Roche gave cornerback Kimere Brown the scoop that set up a 76-yard touchdown run for the Owls cutting the ‘Cats lead to 13-10. The block marked Temple’s 19th since the 2014 season, the most by any FBS team over the last five seasons. Villanova has not allowed a blocked kick since 2002 when Trey Townsend came up with a big one for the Dukes of James Madison.
That was the momentum shift for the Owls who put more points on the board in the third. Junior wideout Isaiah Wright had a 15-yard touchdown grab to send the Owls past the ‘Cats for the lead.
With 7:17 left in the game, the ‘Cats faced a fourth and nine. Would they go for the gamble? You bet. Senior wide receiver Jarrett McClenton came up with the huge 30-yard touchdown catch taking his total to 63 yards and one touchdown on the day. Quincy Roche came up with another blocked kick to prevent the ‘Cats from taking a 3-point lead. Villanova led 19-17.
“On that play that’s just two players that have been playing together for a long time, who spent a lot of time together this summer working together--Jarrett and Zach I’m talking about,” said Ferrante. “They were there the whole summer and that’s just two guys making a play.”
But the ‘Cats were not done yet. On first and 10 for the Owls, senior linebacker Jeff Steeb picked off Frank Nutile, marking his third-career interception, and the ‘Cats took over on downs. The drive resulted in a punt and the Owls took over from their own 8-yard line with 1:27 left on the clock.
Villanova’s defense came up big in the game, grabbing two interceptions including one by Trent that solidified the victory for the ‘Cats. The clock ran out and the ‘Cats took home the Mayor’s Cup.
“That’s what we preach,” said Wildcats head coach Mark Ferrante. “Focus. Fundamentals. Play fast and finish.”
The ‘Cats are on the road again next week as they visit the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in Allentown on Saturday Sept. 8. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m.