Football Recap: Wildcats handle Rhode Island

Daniel Madden

Rested after a much deserved bye week, Villanova piled it on during Rhode Island’s homecoming as they stomped the Rams 44-7. In their fifth-straight win, the Wildcats looked just as good as they have all season, showing why they are ranked No. 7 in the Sports Network Poll.

In their last meeting three years ago, URI beat Villanova 48-30 at Villanova. But this game was a different story all around, as Andy Talley creeps ever closer to becoming the all-time CAA coach in games won. Talley has 96 conference wins and is now just two wins away from passing former New Hampshire Coach Bill Bowes.

Senior Phil Atkinson and sophomore Angelo Babbaro fueled the winning effort, scoring five of Villanova’s six touchdowns. Atkinson registered three touchdowns, tying his career-high, and finished with over 100 yards receiving on five catches. He also had a 10-yard run for a touchdown. Babbaro scored Villanova’s second and third touchdowns with a long-pass reception and then a 1-yard run only three minutes later to close the half. He finished with 74 yards receiving on three catches.

Rhode Island (2-6, 0-4 CAA) came out strong as it forced Villanova (5-1, 3-0) to three-and-out on its first two possessions. The Rams dominated possession in the first quarter, and after recovering a Wildcat fumble, they drove 80 yards and scored to go up 7-0 on senior quarterback Derek Cassidy’s 21-yard run. The Wildcats left hardly any time for celebration, scoring merely 39 seconds later on sophomore Chris Whitney’s 84-yard pass to Atkinson. Villanova, which averaged 27.6 points over its first five games, then went on to score 37 more unanswered points against a team that allows 29.4 points on average per game.

Sophomore running back Aaron Ball also took part in the onslaught when he ran from 34 yards out to score on the first play in the second half. He finished with 95 yards on 10 carries. As a team, Villanova gained 255 yards rushing, making this its third-straight game with over 200 yards. Sophomore Louis Adeyemi carried seven times for a career-high 50 yards, and freshman Lawrence Doss also got into the action, finishing with 30 yards.

Villanova finished with 516 total yards on offense, the highest since recording 542 yards against Penn on Sept. 23, 2006. URI finished with 220 total yards, a drop from its 339.7 season average.

The defense also played a huge role, forcing Cassidy into two interceptions and keeping him to 171 yards, well below his season average of 270.4 yards per game. Villanova also held the Rams, who average 59.4 rushing yards per game, to an even lower 24. Senior Darrel Young recorded a team-high nine tackles, junior Osayi Osunde made seven tackles and forced a fumble and junior Damian Kelley had four tackles, including two sacks. The final nail in the coffin came with 6:24 to go when Kelly brought down quarterback D.J. Stefkovic in the end zone for a safety.

Villanova’s average starting field position was their own 44-yard line, often because of URI turnovers and with help from impressive special teams. Babbaro, who finished with 141 all-purpose yards, had a 53-yard kickoff return to open the second half. Senior kicker Joe Marcoux went 6-for-6 on extra points. He now is 21-for-22 in extra point attempts this season, leading the team with 48 points.

Despite the score, the Rams had a few impressive defensive plays. They forced two fumbles and recovered the one that led to their touchdown. Sophomore Matt Hansen, who forced that fumble, finished with a game-high 11 tackles.

Villanova exploded with big play after big play, with its longest offensive scoring possession lasting 4:30. The Wildcats scored their other five touchdowns in less than two minutes each. The Rams, in fact, held possession slightly longer, but three turnovers really hurt them. Villanova controlled the fourth-quarter clock with ease, however, as it had two possessions of over five minutes.

Junior Shawn Leonard led the Rams with 72 receiving yards, as he and senior Jimmy Hughes each caught six passes.

“I just want to compliment Villanova on a job well done,” Rizzi said. “They did a great job in preparing for today’s game.”

Villanova now leads the series 13-2 overall. They take on No. 1 James Madison at Villanova Stadium on Saturday. JMU is currently undefeated against FCS opponents.