Football hosts conference rival Tribe for a trip to title game


Revenge was sweet on Saturday – sweet as in a 39-point win over New Hampshire, the only team to beat Villanova so far this season. But the Wildcats now have less than a week to prepare for the next round of their 2009 postseason. William & Mary, who the Wildcats took down 28-17 earlier this year, will return to Villanova on Friday night for a matchup between two CAA teams that will send one of them to the NCAA FCS National Championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“It’s time,” said Head Coach Andy Talley. “We’re at home for a semifinal game. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

William & Mary, whom Talley identified as the “sleeper” of the CAA before this season even began, will come to Villanova boasting an 11-2 record. The Tribe lost only to the Wildcats in the fifth week of the season and to Richmond in their final regular season game. They then crushed Weber State by a score of 38-0 in the first round of the playoffs and knocked off Southern Illinois on the road by a score of 24-3 in the quarterfinals.

In light of those two lopsided victories, it appears that the Tribe has chosen the playoffs as the time to play its best football, and the team is playing like an entirely different unit than the one Villanova beat earlier this year.

“They are better,” said Talley. “I think they now realize they’re an elite team, so they’re playing like that.”

If one player on the William & Mary squad should be identified as elite, it would have to be Jonathan Grimes. The sophomore running back is averaging 95 yards per game for the Tribe this season and has picked up nearly 1,300 yards to go with 9 touchdowns on the year to lead the entire CAA in rushing.

“Of all the running backs we have faced this year, he’s the best one,” says Talley. Grimes carried his team last Saturday against Southern Illinois, rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

As a team, however, the best rushers in the CAA are the Wildcats. By utilizing a combination of ground weapons that consist mainly of Chris Whitney, Matt Szczur, Aaron Ball and Angelo Babbaro, Villanova has averaged almost 60 yards per game more than any other team in the league. William & Mary, however, will counter that ground attack with the best rush defense in the CAA – one that has allowed just over 50 yards per game this season.

While the Tribe boasts the best rush defense in the league, its pass defense (second best in the CAA) is not far behind. While the Wildcats will likely try to stick to running the ball at the outset – as they did so effectively on a snowy field against New Hampshire – they may need to turn to the air more than they did last weekend, when Whitney threw the ball only five times. Look for a balanced attack to provide Villanova with the best chance to involve its many offensive weapons against a solid William & Mary defensive unit.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats will certainly need to contain Grimes. They will not be able to focus solely on stopping the run however, as the Tribe’s senior quarterback R.J. Archer commandeers a passing game that is just as dangerous. Archer, who has accumulated the second most passing yardage of any quarterback in the CAA, has completed nearly 100 passes to receivers D.J. McAulay and Rob Varno alone – an aspect of the William & Mary offense that the Wildcats will need to be prepared for.

Friday will mark the Wildcats’ first appearance in the NCAA semifinals since 2002 when they fell to McNeese State. The only other time the team made it that far was in 1997, when a team featuring Brian Westbrook lost its undefeated season to Youngstown State. Still, Talley likes Villanova’s chances this time around.

“I think the [1997] team was more talented offensively, but not as talented defensively,” Talley says. “I also think this team is tougher, and that’s the difference.”

The Wildcats will have to be tough against the Tribe, which has the motivation of revenge this time around. “I understand that since our game against them, they finish all of their practices by saying ‘Beat Villanova!'” Talley said.

Still, the Wildcats have the advantage of home field, and they will count on that, coupled with the momentum of their one-loss season, to carry them to Chattanooga.