Wildcats spoil lead in home opener

Justin DiBiase

By Justin DiBiaseStaff Reporter

The football team fell to 0-2 after a heartbreaking 31-28 loss in their home opener against Lehigh last Saturday. The Mountain Hawks sealed the victory with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when Lehigh’s Matt McGowan scampered into the end zone from 15 yards away. The score capped off a five-play, 80-yard drive that lasted only 1:40. The go-ahead rushing touchdown was the highlight of a game filled with a multitude of ground attacks from both teams. Lehigh and Villanova rushed for 203 and 208 yards, respectively.

McGowan’s touchdown came shortly after Villanova’s senior quarterback Marvin Burroughs put the Wildcats on top 28-24 with a four-yard touchdown run. Although the ‘Nova offense was moving the ball down the field with regularity, the defense struggled for the second consecutive week, surrendering 426 of total offense to Lehigh.

“It was disappointing to lose in front of our home fans and in our first home game,” Burroughs told reporters after the game. “It was a game we expected to win. After they ran back the punt for a touchdown it seemed like everyone got deflated from that. For us it wasn’t so much of a lack of emotion, just a lack of handling adversity better than we did.”

After a scoreless first quarter, ‘Nova emerged with two touchdowns in a 43 second span. After Dicken scored on a one-yard plunge, senior Terrance Reaves recovered a Lehigh fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Aaron Jones then took the ball in from 26 yards away to cap off Villanova’s scoring binge.

However, the defense simply could not stop Lehigh’s offense from overtaking ‘Nova after the Wildcats built a 14-point cushion in the second quarter. Villanova’s special teams suffered a breakdown when they allowed a 57-yard game-tying touchdown punt return to Lehigh’s Frank Trovato. It was the first time Villanova allowed a punt return touchdown to the opposition since Connecticut in the 1999 season.

Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt had a great day behind center, throwing for 223 yards and two scores on 18 completions and also rushing for 77 yards on 13 attempts. ‘Nova held a slight edge in time of possession, but eight costly penalties which resulted in 65 yards hurt the team. Lehigh converted on 7-of-14 third down attempts.

Four Wildcats rushed for over 40 yards, including DeQuese May, who rushed for 90 yards on 15 carries. Matt Dicken scored two of Villanova’s four rushing touchdowns. It was the highest touchdown total on the ground for ‘Nova since 2004. The focus on the running game took pressure off of the Wildcats’ air attack, which only saw 95 yards on 20 attempts from Burroughs.

“We are trying to establish a running game so as not to put as much pressure on the quarterback and on the passing game in general,” Villanova head coach Andy Talley said. “Tonight I also felt that we had to keep our defense off the field as much as possible. We didn’t have a lot of answers for them and it was hot out there tonight too, so we wanted to give the defense a rest. I thought as long as the game was close we could run the ball, but in the end I don’t know if we passed more or had bigger plays if it would have changed the outcome.”

The loss was the first home opening defeat ‘Nova had experienced since 2002. Talley told reporters that his Wildcats simply did not match the passion of the Mountain Hawks.

“While you can take a look at the mistakes we made in critical situations, I really think the game in a nutshell is that our guys did not play with the emotion that Lehigh had. They wanted the game more than us and it was that simple. Lehigh came in here and with their backs against the wall played their signature game. They played extremely well and with enthusiasm across the board.”

Villanova will try to get back on track Saturday in its Atlantic-10 opener against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Villanova Stadium at 1 p.m.