Football Preview: ‘Cats return to FCS action against state rival Lehigh

Kyle Scudilla

Villanova Wildcats atLehigh Mountain HawksSaturday, 1 p.m.Goodman Stadium

Coming off their annual Division I-A (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) opening tune-up, the Wildcats will return to Division I-AA (now called the Football Championship Subdivision) play with a matchup with the Lehigh Mountain Hawks at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pa.

While Villanova made a run at Maryland in last week’s game, trailing just 10-7 at the half, the Terrapins’ offense, led by Keon Lattimore, was too much for the ‘Cats’ defense to handle in the second half. As is the case every year, ‘Nova will face a much more even matchup in its second week, giving the team a much better barometer for how its ’07 lineup will fare.

When Villanova has the ball

All eyes will once again be on new starting quarterback Antwon Young, as he makes his FCS debut as a starter. The red-shirt sophomore was solid against his tough Atlantic Coast Conference competition, going 17-for-28 for 176 yards and a touchdown and an interception. With little help from the ground game, however, the offense struggled, putting up just one touchdown.

With the departure of the team’s top two receivers in terms of yards, fullback DeQuese May and wide receiver Chris Polite, senior Matt Sherry was the first member of the Villanova receiving corps to step up and have a big game. The starting tight end had five catches for 68 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown reception in the closing minutes of the first half. Despite starting all 11 games last year, Sherry had just 19 catches all of last season, so it will be interesting to see if the ‘Cats continue to tap Sherry’s senior experience to play a bigger role in the team’s offensive scheme.

The run game failed to have a similar type of breakout performance. Senior halfback Matt Dicken, who finished last season on a high note, was given just nine carries and finished with 21 rushing yards. As a team, Villanova mustered just 13 yards (an average of 0.7 yards per carry) against the Maryland defense.

The Wildcats offense will go up against a Lehigh defense making its 2007 debut after allowing an average of about 20 points per game in 2006. The Mountain Hawks will be without many key performers from last year’s squad, however, including defensive linemen Eric Rakus, Matt Mohler and Paul Fabre; linebackers Micah Greene and Chris La Mont; and defensive back Julian Austin. So while the Lehigh defense may have a lack of experience, Villanova can be certain it will be facing a group of many new starters trying to impress their coaches in the team’s season opener.

Lehigh still employs arguably the most important member of its 2006 defense, Ernest Moore. The senior defensive back led the team in tackles (65) and interceptions (4) last season.

When Lehigh has the ball

Inexperience will not be a problem behind center for the Mountain Hawks with quarterback and team captain Sedale Threatt leading the offense. Threatt, the son of former NBA player Sedale Threatt Sr. had a good ’06 season, in which he completed 61.4 percent of his passes and threw just five interceptions en route to a Patriot League-leading efficiency rating of 144.7.

The senior will, however, be in search of some new receiving options. Frank Trovato, Lee Thomas and Marques Thompson, the team’s three leading receivers, have moved on, so it will be up to a new group to take control of the receiving duties. Juniors Sekou Yansane and Mike Fitzgerald, along with senior Pete Donchez, will be looked at to step up and fill the gaps in the Mountain Hawks passing offense. None of the team’s returning receivers gained more than 200 yards last year, so how the passing game will perform is still largely a mystery.

The loss of Thompson, last season’s starting running back, also means the Mountain Hawks will have to have a new leader in the backfield. Juniors Matt McGowan and Josh Pastore are expected to get the first opportunities to replace Thompson, who gained 904 rushing yards just a season ago.

Lehigh, who will spend much of the afternoon seeing what known entities it has beyond Threatt at quarterback, should be a good matchup for the Villanova defense, which returns seven starters from last season. The ‘Cats defense, despite yielding 31 points against Maryland, definitely had its moments. Villanova picked off three passes last week, as defensive backs Salim Koroma, Zach Mariacher and Justin Murrell all had interceptions. Koroma, who has been primarily known for his contributions on special teams, made a big statement last week, returning his interception 42 yards for a touchdown. After experiencing the losses of Allyn Bacchus, Terrance Reaves and Rodney Badger, it was certainly encouraging to see the ‘Cats’ secondary step up and make some big plays. The group will attempt to make Threatt’s job of finding new go-to receivers a lot harder on Saturday afternoon.

It will be the ‘Nova run defense that will have to dramatically improve against Lehigh if the Wildcats are to earn their first win of the season. Although the defense yielded 221 yards and four touchdowns last week against Maryland, it is safe to say the group will have an easier go of it this Saturday without Lattimore on the field.


Villanova hosted Lehigh in last season’s second week and lost a heartbreaker in the closing minutes, by a final of 31-28. The last time the Wildcats traveled to Bethlehem was in 2004 when they scored 22 unanswered points for a come-from-behind victory over Lehigh.