The definition of resilience is maintaining poise and keeping hope when all seems lost. Although the Villanova Wildcats football season had not gone the way they had hoped going into the game against William and Mary, they refused to give up and continued to battle. This attitude led to not only an upset, but a pure dismantling of the ninth ranked team in the nation. For the first time all season, the Wildcats offense, defense, and special teams all clicked at the same time, and the result was a dominant force that nobody in the Atlantic 10 would be able to stop.
The ‘Cats came out with fire in their eyes, confident that they could run the ball all over the field against the Tribe’s defense. This turned out to be correct as senior Moe Gibson was purely unstoppable all game long. About midway through the first quarter, the passing game kicked in, as Frank Jankowski led Nova 94 yards down the field, capped off by a J.J. Outlaw 15-yard touchdown reception. This drive was mainly engineered by Outlaw and senior captain John Dieser, who reeled in a 50-yard bomb on his way to a career day.
The defense continued to play like possessed men in the first half, allowing almost no gain whatsoever, and only one field goal attempt which was missed. Safety Allyn Bacchus led the way with a stunning performance that led him to be named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Week, tallying nine tackles and a sack while being phenomenal in pass coverage. Senior captain Brian Hulea continued his quest to be an All American by picking up 11 tackles and a sack. The defensive line was also superb, providing a great pass rush all game long led by captain Darell Adams, Dave Dallessandro, Matty Constantino, Damien
Kelly, and Brian Hentosz.
Late in the second quarter, the ‘Nova offense got rolling again, as Moe Gibson kept tallying up his rushing totals, and Frank Jankowski continued to pick apart the secondary. A huge 20-yard reception by John Dieser got the ‘Cats into the end zone, where big playmaker Anton Ridley was able to beat his man for a 14-yard touchdown reception, putting the ‘Cats up 14-0. After a defensive stop time ran out, so Villanova went into the locker room with a 14-point lead over a top 10 team.
But the fire that burned inside these men did not flicker as they ran out of the tunnel to start the third quarter. The defense collected a three and out to start the half, and the offense took over on the Villanova 12-yard line looking for more points. From there it was more dominance, as Moe Gibson picked up another 20 yards, and big catches by Anton Ridley and J.J. Outlaw set up a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jankowski to Dieser to bring the score to 21-0.
After yet another defensive stop in four downs the ‘Cats took over again determined to run up the score on the trash talking tribe. A big catch by Outlaw and a long 28 yard reception by Dieser moved them to the William and Mary 30 yard line. It was here that Moe Gibson showed the crowd who the star of this game would be, busting through the line and then cutting back across the field for a 30-yard touchdown run to make it 28-0. Gibson would carry the ball 34 times on the day for 179 yards, both being career highs for the senior back. Another career day was had by Dieser, who reeled in 11 catches for 180 yards. And nobody can question the performance of the offensive line, providing excellent protection for Jankowski while destroying defenders in the run game.
“We had heard all the press clippings about their defense, so we took it as a personal challenge to step it up,” John Finneran said.
This effort led this entire unit to receive the team Offensive Player of the Week award from Coach Talley. As said best by J.J. Outlaw, “This game was a total team effort and showed the true ability of our team.”
But the game was not over yet. Following an interception by Rodney Badger, the ‘Cats had the entire field to work with and were driving when Jankowski threw a screen pass that was tipped and eventually picked off and returned for a touchdown by Trevor Mclaurin. But yet they still held a distinctive 28-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, and had not allowed the opponent’s offense to do anything.
With nine minutes remaining in the game, William and Mary finally began to produce as they drove into Villanova territory. It was here that the offense finally found the end zone, as a coverage breakdown resulted in a 37-yard Josh Lusting touchdown catch to close the gap to 28-14. From here ‘Nova took over and moved the ball down the field, using the passing game as well as Gibson. But at the 20-yard line another tipped pass resulted in a James Miller interception that he returned for a touchdown to make the Tribe trail by only seven.
After ‘Nova ran the clock down to 1:30, Adam James got off a spectacular punt, and William and Mary took over for on their own three yard line with one more shot at tying the game. A 15-yard gain provided some hope, but on the next play Rodney Badger made yet another sensational pass break up, and was able to get possession of the ball, taking it in for a 15-yard touchdown to put the game in the books. After an onside kick recovery by Villanova the crowd and players erupted with pure pandemonium.
A team that many considered to be dead had risen from the ashes to defeat one of the best teams in the country. Just watching this team play football will let you understand the meaning of resilience, and they will continue to strive for excellence as long as there are games to be played.