Matchup at Lincoln Financial Field gives ‘Cats chance for Philadelphia spotlight

Joe DeNicholas

The Villanova football team will square off with Big 5 rival Temple tonight at Lincoln Financial Field as a part of the inaugural Mayor’s Cup game. Hoping to extend the rivalry beyond the basketball court, the two football programs have agreed to play one another each year for the next four seasons for city bragging rights and the Mayor’s trophy.

Each year, Villanova opens their season with a Division I opponent. Although Villanova is a Division I school, the football team plays in the former Division I-AA, which is now known as the Football Championship Subdivision. Last year’s Division I opponent was the West Virginia Mountaineers, who handily defeated the Wildcats, 48-21. However, tonight’s game against Temple has all of the makings of a competitive contest.

“I think we match up well against them,” explained Villanova’s head coach Andy Talley. “They have a very good defense, and we have a very good offense. Our strength is against their strength.”

Villanova will enter the game ranked No. 5 in the Football Championship Subdivision and as the odds-on favorite to come out on top of the Colonial Athletic Association. However, Villanova will be at a disadvantage as the visiting team against Temple tonight, according to Talley.

“The difference in this game is in the third and fourth quarter, because we have 63 guys on scholarship, and they have 85 guys on scholarship,” he said. “The difference of those 20-odd players starts to roll against you in the fourth quarter.”

Villanova plays more defensive than offensive players on their roster., so they should be able to hang with the Owls and limit their offense for much of the game. If the ‘Cats can keep it close into the fourth quarter, then Talley believes that his team has a good shot.

“When we’ve beaten Division I teams in the past, like Rutgers and Temple, they come into the game thinking they’re going to roll you out because they’re a DI team,” he said. “So I tell our players that we know how to win the close games. You got to be able to win the close games because every game is a war. We’ve been in games like that, so I don’t think we panic. If we can get Temple in that kind of a game in the fourth quarter, then we’re going to challenge them.”

Players as well as fans say they are excited to see the ‘Cats play in an NFL stadium.

“It is going to be sweet,” senior linebacker Osayi Osunde said about playing at Lincoln Financial Field. “It is going to be amazing. It’s an awesome venue.  The Eagles play there, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.  We just hope that we have a huge crowd there cheering us on because it is right down in Philadelphia.”

Starting quarterback Chris Whitney, who led the Wildcats to a 10-3 mark last season, said, “It’s awesome.  My whole family and friends will be there.  It is one of the reasons I picked Villanova.”

Talley said he is also pleased to be able to play against a quality team so close to home.

“This is why we took the game. Over the last four years we played at West Virginia, Maryland and Central Florida,” he said. “We’re traveling, playing in big stadiums in front of big crowds in hot weather. Why do that when we can play a local team that spurs the interest of people locally? You guys would rather watch Temple-Villanova than West Virginia-Villanova because you figure that West Virginia’s going to beat us. We got a shot down there [against Temple].”

But the Owls are no slouches. They finished the 2008 season with a 5-7 record and had the potential to be a bowl team if it weren’t for two heartbreaking losses as a result of a Hail Mary pass against Buffalo and a double overtime defeat at the hands of Navy.

Starting quarterback Vaughn Charlton leads the Owls into battle. Coming off of a redshirt season, Charlton has found himself in the starting role.

“He’s a big kid who can really throw the ball,” said Talley.

The last time the two teams played each other, the Wildcats triumphed 23-20 in double overtime. It marked the first time a college football game was played at the Linc.

“The last time we played Temple at the Linc, there were 35,000 people there. I couldn’t believe how loud it was. It was a great venue,” Talley said. “I hope we have that kind of game this time.”