Football climbs to No. 2 with win over Lehigh



Nathan McGann

The Villanova Wildcats crushed the visiting Lehigh Mountain Hawks 38-17 this past Saturday night in front of a very loud and very wet crowd of Villanova faithful. Facing a stream of steady showers, the Wildcats relied on the rushing attack early and often, posting 310 yards on the ground with outstanding performances from junior quarterback Chris Whitney and junior wide receiver Matt Szczur.

Whitney, who sparked his offense to an upset victory over FBS opponent Temple in the previous game, continued to display his ability to serve as a dual threat, both on the ground and through the air. The team’s offensive leader carried the ball 14 times for a career-high 130 yards and a touchdown, while completing 11 of 16 passes for 106 yards and two additional scores. Needless to say, Whitney gave headaches to the opposing coaches.

“He’s the difference,” Lehigh Head Coach Andy Coen said after the game. “I think he’s the reason why they’re the No. 3-ranked team in the country as opposed to where they’ve been before. They’re a much better football team when he’s in there.”

Not to be outdone, Szczur, who has shined in the team’s wildcat package during his time at Villanova, also set a career-mark on the ground. The receiver ran for a staggering 103 yards on only five carries, highlighted by a 75-yard run to the opponent’s 2-yard line in the team’s second possession of the game. He was guaranteed to score on the run before a Lehigh defender made a great tackle. This was Szczur’s first 100-yard rushing performance of his career.

“I wish I had [scored] that touchdown,” Szczur said. “But it’s good. All the credit goes to the line. We prepared all week and we went fast. We were able to catch them off guard.”

The Wildcats immediately set the tone in the game when Whitney carried the football into the end zone for a 21-yard score on the team’s opening drive. After the big carry by Szczur, redshirt-freshman kicker Nick Yako, coming off his game-winning field goal, hit from 29 yards to put Villanova up 10-0.

The Mountain Hawks kept the game close for a while, but after a 1-yard carry by Jaren Walker brought Lehigh to within three with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Villanova responded swiftly. Whitney capped off a 60-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Angelo Babbaro with 4:54 remaining on the clock in the second quarter.

On the ensuing Lehigh possession, freshman defensive end Marlon Johnson joined the scoring party and returned a Walker fumble for 19 yards and a touchdown. The defensive score came a mere 16 seconds after Babbaro’s touchdown catch and gave Villanova its largest lead of the half at 24-7. This was the second straight game a Villanova defender found the end zone, and it left the Lehigh sideline in shock.

“I’ll be honest with you, I thought [Walker] was down,” Coen said. “But that was obviously a big swing in momentum.”

Lehigh opened the third quarter with a field goal, only to watch the Villanova offense take the field and put the game away. Junior running back Aaron Ball, who has struggled so far this season, finally found the hole he was desperately searching for and broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run that extended the score to 31-10. Ball finished with 57 yards on nine carries.

Whitney’s second touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter gave Villanova its largest lead of the night at 38-10. But Lehigh’s backup quarterback, Chris Lurn, who came into the game late in the fourth quarter, produced the contest’s final touchdown on a 2-yard pass to Alex Wojdowski with just over a minute left on the clock.

While Villanova produced 417 yards of total offense, allowed only 55 yards rushing and had the game in hand from the opening kickoff, Head Coach Andy Talley was reluctant to praise his team’s performance after the game.

“I don’t feel like it was the kind of game that we really want to put our stamp on,” Talley said. “I think we had a lot of outstanding individual efforts, but I just don’t think we played compactly enough as a football team. Frankly, I think we’re overrated, and we have a long way to go.”

According to Talley, there is room for improvement on both sides of the ball. He notes that the offensive line, who welcomes only one new starter, has struggled blocking for both Ball and Babbaro, while the defensive secondary continues to allow long passing plays. Against Lehigh, the defense allowed 197 passing yards.

“I told them at halftime they were overrated,” he said. “At the end of the game I told them we’re probably going to be the No. 2 team in the country. If Delaware would have made that field goal [against Richmond] we probably would have been No. 1. Do you think we look like a number one team?”

Problems aside, the Wildcats sit unbeaten with instate rival Penn on tap for next Saturday. Whle the Wildcats should cruise to a win, Penn has proved difficult in the past. This game is the final one before Villanova begins its grueling conference schedule, and Talley has certainly put things in perspective.

“We’re always happy when we win.”