Football: Villanova knocked from playoff contention

Tim Richer

The Wildcats were eliminated from postseason play on Saturday after falling to the No. 11 Richmond Spiders 35-27 at UR Stadium. Villanova (5-4, 3-3 CAA) entered the game ranked No. 23 in the FCS polls. However, after its third loss this season to a Top 15 team, the Wildcats dropped out of the rankings after their one-week stay.

Richmond (7-2, 5-1 CAA) was fueled by superstar senior running back Tim Hightower, who ran for 187 yards on 36 carries with one touchdown. Hightower, the rushing leader in the CAA, accumulated his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season with his effort against the ‘Cats.

“We played them toe-to-toe,” Head Coach Andy Talley said. “The difference in the end was Hightower because they had that one outstanding player that could get things done.”

‘Nova put up a strong fight in a game that saw five different lead changes. Freshman quarterback Chris Whitney had the strongest game of his young career, tallying 186 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also displayed his excellent running ability, adding 64 rushing yards on 16 carries.

“Whitney did a very good job of managing the game and a good job throwing the ball,” Talley said. “He did a great job of running the ball and kept drives alive with his feet. He gives me confidence that we have a shot in the next two games if he plays this way.”

Junior wide receiver Phil Atkinson continued to show why he is one of the most dynamic players in the conference as he caught two touchdown passes and threw for another. On the Wildcats first possession of the game, Atkinson turned a reverse into a 43-yard passing touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Brandyn Harvey to give Villanova an early 7-3 lead.

Harvey had a strong day for the visitors as he put up a career-high 135 receiving yards on five acrobatic catches in addition to his touchdown catch.

“I think it was Phil’s best game here, and Harvey stepped up with some beautiful catches and looked like the big-time receiver we think he can be,” Talley said of his star receivers.

There was no shortage of offense on the day as Richmond had a slight edge, gaining 420 total yards to the Wildcats’ 405 yards. The Spiders’ biggest defensive stand came early in the fourth quarter, when Villanova had to settle for a field goal in the red zone, making the score 28-24. Richmond followed up the possession with a long drive that concluded in a 9-yard touchdown run from sophomore quarterback Eric Ward that put the game out of reach at 35-24.

The Spiders were able to change around their fortunes at UR Stadium, where Villanova had dominated Richmond in recent years. Going into Saturday’s matchup, the Wildcats had won five out of their last six games on Richmond’s home turf.

Villanova’s next matchup is this Saturday on the road in Maryland against the Towson Tigers (3-6, 1-5 CAA) .

“We have the chance for a winning season, and we would like to maintain that winning feeling going into the next few years,” Talley said.