FBALL Recap: Villanova rips Colgate in playoffs

Nathan McGann

Sophomore Matt Szczur set the tone for the No. 6 Villanova Wildcats on the opening kickoff when he returned the kick 91 yards for a touchdown. Villanova dominated the remainder of the game and beat a hot Colgate team 55-28 in the opening round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. It was the Wildcats’ first playoff victory since 2002.

While Szczur celebrated with teammates after he crossed the goal line, a frightening series of events took place back at the Villanova 26-yard line. Senior safety Darrel Young lay motionless and on his back as trainers rushed in from the sidelines to attend to the defensive stalwart. Head Coach Andy Talley, team physician William Emper and trainers surrounded Young, who apparently sustained a neck sprain while throwing a block on the return, according to a spokesperson for the team.

Young would eventually be airlifted to the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania where the neck sprain was diagnosed. He remained overnight for observation.

“It was fairly emotional,” Talley said. “When you’re out there looking at it, you’re thinking the worst. But he never lost consciousness. His hands and feet were moving. He had strength in all his limbs.”

To say the team rallied around Young’s injury would be an understatement. The Wildcats, after watching Young leave the field in an ambulance, controlled the game from start to finish, putting up impressive numbers against a formidable opponent.

The offense, which prides itself on its running attack, eclipsed its previous season-high with 386 yards on the ground. Not to be outdone, the defense kept one of the best rushing teams in the FCS to just over 200 yards rushing, 113 of which came well into the fourth quarter when Villanova began using its bench.

The star of the game had to be Szczur, who, in addition to his kickoff return, added a score on the ground on a 4-yard rush and another receiving on a 16-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Chris Whitney. Between the start of the second quarter and the conclusion of the third, Villanova scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions.

There were no playoff jitters to be found anywhere on this young Villanova team. Everyone contributed to a game that was arguably the biggest of any of their careers. Four players rushed for at least 30 yards, including senior receiver Phil Atkinson, who ran for 65 on an incredible reverse play, and sophomore tailback Aaron Ball, who became only the third Villanova player in school history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a single season with a team-high 92 yards. Ball also reached the end zone on two of his carries and was one of four players to score in the second quarter.

“We pride ourselves in the running game,” senior offensive tackle Izzy Bauta said. “For us to be able to run the ball out there like we did today, it’s exciting. Coach talked about how good their line was, but we wanted to be the talk of the game for how well we could run the ball.”

The closest the Raiders came was 13-7 late in the first quarter. They could only watch the scoreboard as the Villanova lead ballooned to 41-7 by the end of the first half. The Villanova defensive starters held the opposition to only 25 yards rushing in the first half and did not allow a third-down conversion in six attempts. It was Colgate’s first loss since September, snapping an eight-game winning streak for the 16th-ranked team in the nation.

Credit for the win extends beyond the players on the field. Talley and his coaching staff prepared a team that had no playoff experience and kept the players focused after Young’s injury on the first play from scrimmage.

“That team wanted to run the ball down our throats,” Talley said. “Instead, we ran it down their throats. We didn’t give them a chance.”

Now the team looks ahead to the next round, when it travels to James Madison and seeks revenge for the last-second Hail Mary pass JMU quarterback Rodney Landers used to steal a victory from the Wildcats at Villanova Stadium.

The Wildcats will most likely have to earn the quarterfinal upset without Young, who is listed as questionable, but the players said they are happy that he will recover and are glad they could win this game for him.

“It was tough, because Darrel is a big part of our defense,” senior defensive end Greg Miller said. “We just told each other we’re going to do it for Darrel because he would do it for us.”

Villanova will play James Madison during the second round at Bridgeforth Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The winner plays the winner of Montana and Weber State.