FB: Wildcats defeat No. 1 Richmond

Tim Richer

Entering last Saturday’s game against the No. 1-ranked Richmond Spiders, the Wildcats were 0-4 in school history against top seeds. On the rain-soaked field of Villanova Stadium, the ‘Cats reversed their fortunes and pulled off the 26-20 upset to launch themselves into the No. 14 ranking in the latest FCS Coaches Poll.

After the final snap of the game, Villanova’s several-hundred person student section rejoiced by storming the field to join the players in celebration with chants of “‘Nova! ‘Nova!” in the center of the turf.

“That was an excellent show of support by the students,” Head Coach Andy Talley said, referring to the student section. “I’ve never seen that before at Villanova Stadium.”

The winning effort was fueled by the force of a rushing game that compiled 226 total yards, including a career-high 123 yards from sophomore running back Aaron Ball. Ball found the end zone twice, including once on a 63-yard dash up the middle of the field in the second quarter that gave ‘Nova a double-digit lead.

Villanova’s defense also played a large role, allowing only 101 yards in the first half. Senior defensive end Greg Miller stepped up once again, converting eight tackles, including two-and-a-half for sacks. Junior defensive end Tim Kukucka dominated the other side of the line with two sacks for a defense that put pressure on junior quarterback Eric Ward the entire game.

Richmond, which had been noted for a strong running attack, was limited to 83 total rushing yards. Senior Josh Vaughan led the Spiders with 44 yards on 16 attempts. The road team was without speedster junior running back Justin Forte, who was sidelined with an injury.

Speculation arose during the week as to who would be the Wildcats’ starting quarterback after red-shirt junior Antwon Young threw four interceptions in ‘Nova’s previous game against Penn. Sophomore Chris Whitney, who answered the call against the Quakers with the winning touchdown, played every down for the ‘Cats against Richmond and threw for 176 yards on 14-of-22 passing attempts.

The game did not look promising for the Blue and White after Whitney was intercepted on the offense’s first series of the game, starting a Richmond drive on the Villanova 33-yard line. As they were able to do all game, the ‘Cats defense stepped up and forced the Spiders into a punt. Later in the quarter, the Spiders took their first and only lead of the game with a field goal off a blocked punt. However, the Wildcats quickly responded with Ball’s first touchdown.

“The turning point of the game was the interception and punt block to start the game,” Talley said. “They only had three points from that. We knew we could play with them from that point.”

Senior kicker Joe Marcoux continued his outstanding season with a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, including a career-long 48-yard conversion in the fourth quarter. For the year, he is now 8-for-10 on 3-point attempts and has converted all 10 of his extra-point tries.

For his effort, the Campbell Hall, N.Y., native was named the CAA Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season and was also given the Sports Network’s FCS Special Teams Player of the Week.

With the victory, Villanova extended its league-high nine-game home winning streak. The last time ‘Nova lost on its home turf was on homecoming in 2006 when the Wildcats fell to the Towson Tigers.

Next up for the Wildcats is the William & Mary Tribe (2-1, 0-0) this Saturday in Williamsburg, Va. The Tribe has been on the bubble of the rankings the entire season and will be looking to secure a spot in the standings with a victory. Villanova last visited Zable Stadium two years ago and emerged with a 35-31 victory.