Football: ‘Cats join Top 25 with upset win



Tim Richer

For the fourth time this season, the Wildcats defended their home turf at Villanova Stadium. They defeated No. 15 Hofstra (6-2, 3-2 CAA) by a score of 35-31 last Saturday. The ‘Nova victory was fueled by two defensive touchdowns and a kickoff return for a score.

With the victory, the Wildcats (5-3, 3-2 CAA) moved into The Sporting Network’s FCS poll at No. 23.

Red-shirt freshman defensive back Martel Moody was the star of the game for the ‘Cats. Moody recorded two interceptions, two tackles, half a sack and two pass deflections in the endzone to lead Villanova to victory. Moody took his first interception, the second of his career, 47 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

“Martel had as good a game as a defensive back has had here in a long time,” Head Coach Andy Talley said.

Moody’s biggest play occurred on Hofstra’s final offensive drive in the fourth quarter as the Pride attempted to take the lead with under two minutes to go in the game. On a fourth-and-10, Hofstra’s junior quarterback Bryan Savage attempted a pass to junior wide receiver Ottis Lewis in the endzone. However, Moody broke up the play to give the Wildcats the ball. ‘Nova kneeled the ball for the final minute of the game to secure the victory.

For his stellar play, Moody was named the CAA Rookie of Week. Moody is the second Wildcat to earn that honor this season; freshman defensive back John Dempsey earned the award for his play earlier in the year against UPenn.

Villanova jumped out to a quick 14-0 start in the first quarter, thanks to excellent field position and shifty running plays. Senior running back Matt Dicken tallied the first score, his fourth touchdown of the season, after an option play to freshman wide receiver Matt Szczur, gaining the Wildcats field position on the Pride 2-yard line. Halfway through the first quarter, ‘Nova scored again on a 10-yard reverse to junior wide receiver Phil Atkinson.

Hofstra did not go down easily, thanks to the play by Savage and senior running back Kareem Huggins. After going down 21-7, the Pride rallied to tie the game by halftime. Huggins ran for a 55-yard touchdown, while Savage added a 14-yard rushing score of his own. Huggins had a strong game with 95 yards on 12 carries; however, he left the game early in the third quarter and did not return due to an undisclosed injury.

The Wildcats responded to Hofstra’s comeback with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by sophomore running back Angelo Babbaro. Babbaro gave the ‘Cats strong field position all game from his returns; he recorded 190 total yards on his five kickoff returns. His strong game earned him CAA Special Teams Player of the Week.

Villanova added another defensive touchdown on the ensuing possession when junior defensive end Greg Miller sacked Savage, forcing the ball loose deep in Pride territory. Sophomore defensive end Tim Kukucka recovered the fumble and ran the ball into the end zone for a 17-yard return, putting ‘Nova up 35-21.

Neither starting quarterback had a particularly strong game. Savage had three interceptions, while freshman Chris Whitney recorded just 56 passing yards on 8-of-16 pass attempts.

“I think Chris is still trying to get comfortable in the passing package,” Talley said. “As he continues to get work, he’ll continue to get better.”

Hofstra was able to outgain the Wildcats, 357 offensive yards to 201 for Villanova. Defense and special teams were crucial for the ‘Cats, who lead the CAA with a turnover margin of 13.

In addition to Moody, several Wildcats put together a strong game on the defensive end. Sophomore linebacker Osayi Osunde led the team with 11 tackles, while senior defensive lineman David Dalessandro added nine. Miller continued his standout season with eight tackles and one-and-a-half sacks in addition to his forced fumble.

“We really put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and he had to hurry a lot of his throws,” Talley said. “Our speed rush all day was one of the keys to the turnovers.”

Villanova continues its quest for the playoffs when it travels to Virginia on Saturday to take on the No. 11 Richmond Spiders (6-2, 4-1 CAA). Richmond is led by senior running back Tim Hightower, one of the best backs in the FCS, and the top rusher in the CAA with over 150 rushing yards per game. The game is a must-win for the Wildcats, who need to win their last three contests of the season to have a shot at an at-large bid in the FCS playoffs.

“We need to slow [Hightower] down, somehow,” Talley said. “Our passing game has to step up this week. If we can win the Richmond game, playoffs get clearer.”