No. 3 Villanova defeats No. 1 Richmond on late touchdown

David Cassilo

After allowing a go-ahead touchdown pass on a fourth-and-11 play from Villanova’s junior quarterback Chris Whitney to senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey, Richmond had one last chance to overcome a day of disaster. Senior kicker Andrew Howard booted a 35-yard field goal attempt for the win, but the ball eventually spun wide enough to completely entangle the Spiders in the web of a 21-20 Villanova upset.

As expected, Wildcat spirits were at their peak following the missed attempt.

“After the game, we were sky-high and pleased with the effort,” said Head Coach Andy Talley. “We had the week off and had talked about the game and how pivotal it was in our drive for a championship.”

The miss by Howard was the culmination to a thrilling fourth quarter. The final 15 minutes began with Richmond trailing 14-7, but just four plays into the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Eric Ward connected with sophomore wideout Tre Gray on a 7-yard touchdown pass to knot the game at 14.

After a Villanova three-and-out, Richmond once again drove the ball deep into Wildcat territory, but this time Talley’s defense stepped up as freshman cornerback Eric Loper intercepted Ward at the 5-yard line.

The interception came just over five minutes after Whitney threw an interception to junior linebacker Patrick Weldon at Richmond’s 5-yard line. That interception led to Ward’s touchdown pass to Gray.

Villanova, though, was unable to capitalize like Richmond did and was forced to punt once again with just over six minutes remaining. The Spiders once again drove down the field and were able to take a 20-14 lead after freshman fullback Kendall Gaskins rushed for a 1-yard touchdown. However, disaster struck on the extra point attempt as Howard was unable to convert after a high snap. It was the second time that Richmond failed on an extra point.

With 2:19 remaining, Richmond was left with a decision: kick to Matt Szczur, the Wildcats’ talented junior kick returner, or squib it. Richmond’s head coach Mike London chose the latter, and Villanova was able to start its crucial drive at its own 44-yard line.

“I wouldn’t kick it to Szczur,” said Talley. “They squibbed it because I think they felt they had the defense to stop us. The key in that whole scenario was that they squibbed it.”

The Wildcats took full advantage early in the drive, marching downfield with relative ease. However, with 1:06 remaining on the clock, the game was at a crossroads for the team, as it was faced with a fourth-and-11 play from the Richmond 29-yard line.

Like so many times before in similar situations, the Wildcats called Harvey’s name for their biggest play. As Whitney dropped back to pass, Harvey darted over the middle and into the secondary. Whitney floated a pass that appeared like it was going to sail just over the reach of his wideout, but Harvey extended his left arm and hauled in a one-handed catch before sprinting into the endzone for the go-ahead score.

“We were going to throw the ball to him,” said Talley. “We got rid of it quick and hoped Brandyn was free. We almost threw it too far.”

Still, there was a time for one final Richmond drive as Villanova scored with 59 seconds remaining. After starting its drive on its own 24-yard line, Ward connected with sophomore wideout Donte Boston for 31 yards on a third-and-one play that took Richmond to Villanova’s 36-yard line. Two pass completions later, the Spiders positioned themselves for a game-winning field goal attempt from 35 yards out. Howard, however, missed the attempt left, securing the Villanova victory.

For Villanova, the win over Richmond marked the second season in a row that it had knocked off the Spiders when they had the No. 1 ranking. Much of its success this past Saturday had to do with the team’s ability to bottle up the CAA’s leading rusher, senior Justin Forte.

“The game plan was to shut their running game down,” Talley said. “We went into the game with the mentality that we weren’t going to let them run the ball against us.”

The plan worked as Forte was held to 57 yards rushing, and the entire Richmond team had just 86 rushing yards.

On the other side of the ball, Whitney led the way, throwing for three touchdowns, including the game-winner, and 277 yards on his way to being named the CAA’s Offensive Player of the Week.

“We had to go to the air, and Whitney had a pretty good day,” Talley said. “He did his best job all year throwing the ball, and we needed it.”

The one-point victory lifted Villanova to the No. 3 ranking in the FCS. With just two games remaining, the Wildcats could receive three home playoff games with wins over Towson and Delaware in their final two contests.