Wildcats’ offense survives Randolph and Holy Cross

David Cassilo

It is widely agreed that one man cannot carry a football team, but on Saturday, Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph tried his best to disprove that theory. Despite playing with a nonexistent running game, Randolph threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns. It was enough to close out a career on a high note, but not enough to lead his team to victory as the No. 2 Wildcats defeated the No. 17 Crusaders 38-28 in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

The offensive shootout that was about to unfold between the two teams was apparent from the beginning.

“We knew after the first possession that we were going to have to score a lot of points,” said junior wide receiver Matt Szczur. “Nothing was really said, but you could tell that Holy Cross had a good offense and they were going to be able to put some points on the board. When you have a quarterback like they have anything is possible.”

Szczur wasn’t the only one giving Randolph high praise after the game. Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley called the senior quarterback “the best quarterback we have seen.”

However, the Wildcats were able to get past Randolph and the Crusaders due to the strong play of their own offense. Villanova scored a touchdown on its first three drives and by halftime led 28-14.

The lower-seeded Crusaders closed the gap to seven points in the third quarter when Randolph hit senior wide receiver Bill Edger on a 17-yard touchdown pass.

With the Wildcats now on upset alert, the team turned to two all-CAA players to avoid an early departure. On the second play following the Holy Cross touchdown, junior quarterback Chris Whitney escaped two Crusader defenders poised for a sack by rolling to his right. Whitney then saw Szczur standing by the right sideline heavily guarded by a Holy Cross defender. Nevertheless, the quarterback tossed the ball to Szczur who jumped over the defender to make a 45-yard catch and keep the Wildcats playoff dream alive.

“I still don’t know how their player caught the ball,” Holy Cross Head Coach Tom Gilmore said.

Szczur, who finished the game with a career-high 130 yards receiving, then closed that same drive six plays later when he scored a five-yard touchdown out of the Wildcat formation to put Villanova back up by 14.

The upset bid did not die there, though. Randolph marched his team downfield on the next possession and connected with sophomore tight end Alex Schneider for a five-yard touchdown to narrow the score to 35-28 with 13:37 remaining in the game.

Needing a stop to have any chance to win, Holy Cross failed to even slow down the Villanova offense. The Wildcats went on a six-minute drive that ended with a field goal to give the team a two-possession lead.

The Wildcat defense then did what the Crusaders could not and forced a turnover on downs with 1:30 left in the game. That sealed the deal for Villanova, who was able to run the clock out to advance to the next round.

While Randolph may have been the most impressive player on the field, it was the Villanova offense that was the deciding factor in the game. The Wildcats outgained the Crusaders 537 to 393 yards overall, including 298 to 46 on the ground. The balanced rushing attack featured four players (Whitney, Szczur and junior running backs Angelo Babbaro and Aaron Ball) who all rushed for at least 50 yards and a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Whitney completed 16 of 23 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. In a game which would prove to be a shootout, the Villanova offense rose to the occasion.

“Our offense played unbelievably,” Talley said. “I thought we had a great day, and we needed to be on top of our game because Holy Cross played beautifully on offense.”

After being tested by the Crusaders, the Wildcats will now face their toughest test yet in No. 10 New Hampshire, the only team to defeat Villanova this season. On Oct. 10, New Hampshire defeated Villanova 28-24 at home in what was at the time a game between two undefeated opponents. In the first round, New Hampshire traveled to McNeese State and defeated them 49-13.