Villanova rallies to defeat William & Mary 14-13, advances to FCS title game



David Cassilo

It took a fake punt, multiple fourth down attempts and a little help from the replay booth, but in the end, the Villanova football team was able to accomplish something it had never done before: make the national title game. The 14-13 win over William & Mary now has the Wildcats just one win away from securing its first ever national title.

“That’s probably about as even a game as you could predict between us,” said Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley.

Early in the game, it appeared as though Villanova was letting the opportunity slip away without much of a fight. The Wildcats trailed 10-0 at halftime and were outgained by William & Mary 257 yards to 70.

However, the game began to turn in the Wildcats favor thanks to two terrific plays by junior wide receiver Matt Szczur. The CAA’s offensive player of the year got his team on the scoreboard when he ran the ball 62 yards for a touchdown with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter. Szczur took the ball out of the Wildcat formation and went untouched off the left edge for the touchdown.

After a Tribe field goal made the score 13-7, Villanova started what would be the most important drive of the game. On the fourth play of that drive, the Wildcats were faced with a 4th-and-8 from the Tribe’s 46-yard line. Lined up in their punt formation, sophomore punter Dominic Scarnecchia ran the ball to the right before pitching it to Szczur, who ran to the left and barely picked up the first down.

“It was just one of those things you are going to try to do because you are trying to win the game,” Talley said.

Later in the drive, the Wildcats got a little help from replay review system when a 16-yard pass to senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey that was initially ruled incomplete was overturned and gave Villanova the ball at the Tribe’s 6-yard line.

“The referee didn’t give me the call, but I knew I put my foot down,” Harvey said.

Four plays later, the Wildcats were faced with a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Senior quarterback Chris Whitney took the snap and bounced off the right edge and into the endzone to give Villanova the 14-13 lead.

After two three-and-outs by William & Mary, the Wildcats got the ball back with 5:41 remaining. On the eighth play of that drive, Villanova was faced with a decision: go for a 4th-and-1 to effectively end the game or kick a field goal. Talley chose to go for it, and Whitney rushed two yards to pick up the first down. Villanova was then able to run the clock out to end the game.

Aside from making the team’s first national title game, the win was the 13th in school history, a new record. After the game, Talley was quick to note how special this team was compared to his others during his 25 years at the school.

“This is the elite group of the 25 I’ve had,” Talley said. “This team here has the ability to dig deep, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a team as gritty as this group.”