Comeback ‘Cats prevail over Penn

Joe Groglio

To have a successful football team, it is necessary to have mental toughness and intensive focus each and every week. This season’s edition of Villanova football has proved that they have both, and this has led to success in these early contests. Last Saturday the ‘Cats faced Penn, a week before they would play the No. 1 team in the nation in New Hampshire. Most teams would look past this Ivy League, non scholarship team in a situation like this, but the ‘Cats kept their poise and focused only on the current battle. For Penn this was their Bowl game, and to show the city that they were good enough to play with anyone, and a chance to beat their suburban rivals.

The battle did not start out well, as Penn stormed out to an early 17-0 lead in the second quarter, led by the rushing of Joe Sandberg and the efficient play of Quarterback Pat McDermott. After McDermott hit Matt Care for a 50 yard touchdown strike, the ‘Cats took over needing a touchdown badly. Frank Jankowski answered the call, leading the offense down the field 73 yards for a touchdown. Dequese May and JJ Outlaw accounted for most of that yardage on big pass plays, and Matt Sherry finished it off with a seven yard TD catch to make it 17-7.

The second half started out just like the first half however, as Joe Sandberg capped a long Penn drive with a 30 yard touchdown run. From here the Wildcat defense began to get angry. Playing without captain Darell Adams and starter Dave Dallessandro, the team was forced to use two freshman on the defensive line that had never played a snap before, and the inexperience showed as they each committed costly penalties and missed assignments that led to Penn leading 24-7. It didn’t help that the officials made several controversial calls that favored Penn.

But regardless of everything, this team refused to give up and Frank Jankowski was determined to win this game, even with a partial separation of his shoulder discovered at halftime. On the next drive, he led the Wildcats 60 yards for a touchdown, almost all of that through the air. John Dieser and Chris Polite made two huge catches to get them down the field, and Matt Sherry scored his second touchdown of the game with a 10 yard reception to make it 24-14.

From here that young defense began to pick it up, as young ends Greg Miller and Damien Kelly contributed to shutting the Quakers out for the rest of the game. After two series ended in punts, a Penn drive was stopped by tackle Matty Constantino’s big hit on McDermott, forcing a fumble that was recovered by captain Brian Hulea. On the next two Penn drives, they were held to a staggering negative two yards, forcing two punts.

It was here that the offense once again came alive, once again on the strength of the passing game and a huge run by Mo Gibson. In only the second offensive play of his career, sophomore receiver Phil Atkinson made a tremendous 26 yard reception on third down to keep the drive going. JJ Outlaw came up big once again, recording over 30 yards receiving, including an 18 yard touchdown catch. This score put the cats only down

by three heading into the fourth quarter. After yet another stop by the defense, the ‘Cats took over on their 11 yard line with all the momentum in the world. Jankowski was brilliant once more, marching them down the field on an 89 yard touchdown drive capped by John Dieser’s 26 yard reception. Outlaw and Polite also had big catches along the way.

Now ‘Nova led 28-24 for the first time in the game, and with only two minutes left the defense headed out onto the field. After a big sack by freshman linebacker Darell Young, the Quakers faced a fourth and five situation. The game appeared to be over as Damien Kelly sacked McDermott; however the referee called a facemask penalty to keep the drive alive.

The defense forced yet another fourth and long, this time with only 13 seconds remaining in the game. Penn was able to convert on a hail mary pass to Dan McDonald that made it first and goal on the goal line with enough time left for one play. Times like this are the reason you play the game, a chance to make a game saving play, a chance to be heroic.

Senior linebacker Brian Adams became the hero this time, sacking McDermott and ending the game on a tenacious blitz. Pandemonium was all around Franklin Field as the 13,000 ‘Nova fans and the sidelines erupted with joy. There was so much intensity that a brawl erupted in the middle of the field between the two rival teams.

The Wildcats moved to 2-1, and will now travel to New Hampshire to face the number one team in 1-AA. Villanova is capable of beating them, and they are no stranger to being the underdog as they have been picked to lose in all of their games so far this year. If they can bring the same mental toughness and focus that they showed in this comeback against Penn, than the No. 1 team may have a very short reign at the top. The game will be televised on CN8.