Villanova falls short in upset bid against Central Florida

Kyle Scudilla

By Kyle ScudillaStaff reporter

Early success in the passing game was all Steven Moffett and the University of Central Florida needed to get ahead and stay ahead, sealing a 35-16 victory over the Villanova Wildcats in each team’s first game of the season.

Moffett, UCF’s senior quarterback, accounted for the first three Knights’ touchdowns, connecting on two TD passes in the first quarter and one in the second quarter. He was sharp on the day, completing 15 of his 20 passes, compiling 199 yards and not throwing an interception.

Although Villanova moved the ball well during the game, winning the time of possession battle and out-gaining their opponent in total yards 322-304, the early deficit was simply too large for the Wildcats to ever pull close to the Knights.

This hole was created quickly, as Moffett and the UCF pass attack translated a few big plays into instant points. After chalking up big yardage with a 26-yard completion to wide receiver Mike Walker, Moffett hit Willie Thornton for a 20-yard touchdown pass. Following a short punt by Villanova that started the next UCF drive at ‘Nova’s 24-yard line, the Knights cashed in again. This time Walker found the end zone, catching a three-yard touchdown pass and putting UCF up by 14.

Walker wasn’t done with his big day after the first quarter. Playing in his first game since a knee injury cut his 2005 campaign short, the Knights’ receiver hit pay dirt for a second time when Moffett connected with him for a 13-yard strike. UCF’s offense prevailed again the next time they had the ball, but this time they did most of their work on the ground. After starting with great field position at Villanova’s 35-yard line, running backs Kevin Smith and Jason Peters rumbled down the field before Peters punched in the fourth Knights’ TD of the game, putting UCF up 28-7 at the half.

Villanova’s offense didn’t go quietly into the night. Down 14-0, the Wildcats first broke through. Following a 33-yard pass from Marvin Burroughs to DeQuese May, Aaron Jones ran into the end zone from seven yards out.

The Wildcats wouldn’t score again until the third quarter, but it was a big special teams’ play that seemed to ignite Villanova for a solid stretch in the second half. UCF punter Aaron Horne had his punt blocked with about six minutes remaining in the quarter. After a scramble for the ball, Villanova linebacker Darrel Young was able to down UCF in the end zone, resulting in a safety. Villanova built momentum quickly on the ensuing drive. Burroughs connected with receivers Phil Atkinson, Anton Ridley and Michael Bradway for a few big pass plays before the Wildcats capped the drive with Burroughs and Ridley hooking up for Villanova’s first touchdown pass of the season. The pass was a 16-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. The touchdown marked the first for Burroughs since last season’s opener at Rutgers, where he suffered a season-ending arm injury.

Unfortunately for Villanova, the surge of momentum wouldn’t last for long, as UCF was able to stick the nail in the coffin on the very next drive. Kevin Smith ran for 49 yards on the drive, which he punctuated with a one-yard touchdown run. Smith touched the ball five straight times at the end of the drive, eventually putting UCF up by a score of 35-16.

Smith led all rushers with 86 yards on the day. Mike Walker finished with six catches, 77 yards and two touchdowns. Although the Knights gained fewer yards than Villanova, they also did not turn the ball over once, never giving the Wildcats an easy scoring opportunity in the battle for field position.

While the opener went down as a loss for the ‘Cats, they did see encouraging play from their quarterback, Burroughs. After not seeing game action for a full year, the ‘Nova QB went 22-for-32 for 241 yards and a touchdown, spreading the ball around to eight different receivers. Atkinson led the team in receptions, hauling in six catches on the day. May, Ridley and Chris Polite also had solid contributions to the passing game, with 65, 56 and 43 receiving yards, respectively. On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Michael Holland had a big game, notching eight tackles and a pair of sacks for the Wildcats’ defense. Safety Allyn Bacchus, in his 34th straight start for the Villanova defense, chipped in with six tackles.

The Wildcats play their home opener against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Villanova Stadium.