Football: Wildcats handle Lehigh in home opener

Tim Richer

After enjoying only a one-week November stay in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 in 2007, Villanova looked to establish a stable presence in the ’08 version of the polls going into last Saturday’s game. The Wildcats (1-1) did just that on Parents’ Weekend, rolling to a 33-14 defeat of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (1-1). With the win, Villanova moved up two spots in the latest Football Championship Subdivision polls to No. 19.

In front of over 11,000 fans at Villanova Stadium, the Wildcats outgained their opponents for the second consecutive game with 371 yards compared to just 238 for the Mountain Hawks. ‘Nova never trailed in the game, racking up its first win of the season in its first FCS matchup of 2008.

Wildcat senior kicker Joe Marcoux was the star of the game, converting 4-of-4 field goal attempts, including two over 40 yards, as well as all three of his extra point attempts. With his 15 combined points, he outscored the entire Mountain Hawk team. For his efforts, Marcoux was given CAA Special Teams Player of the Week.

The game got off to a slow start without a score in the first quarter. Villanova struck first with a 43-yard field goal by Marcoux early in the second. On the following possession, the ‘Cats broke it open when linebacker Osayi Osunde picked off J.B. Clark and returned it 56 yards for the first touchdown of the game. The interception was the first of four on the day for the Wildcats.

Despite the Wildcats’ first-half dominance that included almost four more minutes of possession than the Hawks, ‘Nova found itselves only up by 13-7 when running back Matt McGowan found the end zone on a 3-yard run after a 10-play drive. Villanova responded with a minute and a half to go on an eight-play, 75-yard drive that concluded with sophomore running back Aaron Ball finding the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. Ball’s run put the ‘Cats up 20-7 heading into halftime.

“It really let the Lehigh kids know what we were really in control of the game,” Head Coach Andy Talley said. “It was a statement that said, ‘If, you score, we will too.'”

The Wildcats never relinquished the lead the rest of the way. On the second play of the second half, junior defensive back Ross Ventrone picked-off Clark on a deep ball over the middle of the field. ‘Nova capitalized on the turnover with a 44-yard field goal by Marcoux on the ensuing possession.

Villanova’s defense locked down on Lehigh, allowing on one more score that came in the beginning of the fourth quarter when Clark connected with wide receiver Sekou Yansane on a 6-yard pitch.

Red-shirt junior quarterback Antwon Young was able to spread the ball around the field; he hooked up with junior wide receiver Phil Atkinson on a 20-yard strike for his lone touchdown pass of the game. On the day, Young converted 22 of his 35 passing attempts for 235 yards. While there was no standout performance from an individual wide out, six receivers finished the game with multiple receptions.

On the defensive end, the Wildcats had a strong day that included a heavy pass rush on Lehigh’s backfield, in addition to the four interceptions. Senior captain and defensive end Greg Miller led the team with seven tackles.

“I was happy with the defense all day,” Talley said. “Our line had a nice rush that put pressure on their quarterback the entire game.”

With Saturday’s victory over Lehigh, the Wildcats maintained their dominance over the FCS. Dating back to the last Wildcats-Mountain Hawks contest when the Blue and White had a 10-point victory in Bethlehem in September of 2007, Villanova has won eight of its last 11 games against FCS-level opponents.

Next up for the Villanova Wildcats will be a matchup with the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday at historic Franklin Field in Philadelphia. The Quakers will be playing their season opener as they host a team that has dominated them in the past; the Wildcats are 5-0 against Penn in the past six seasons.