Closing out their ‘best ever’ season



Cailin Brophy

From the opening kickoff to the final drive, 2002 was a season of milestones for the Wildcat football team. This year’s squad earned its distinction as the best team to take the turf at Villanova since the reinstatement of football at the University in 1983. The ’Cats capped off an 11-4 season with a hard-fought loss to eventual runner-up McNeese State in the Division I-AA national semifinals. In what was the deepest playoff run in team history, the Wildcats dispelled critics who picked them to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10 conference by knocking off both Fordham and Furman University to earn their trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana. ’Nova snuck its way into the postseason by grinding out a nailbiting win in the season finale against fierce rival Delaware. One of the highlights of the season was “the drive,” an 11-play, 74-yard strike which ousted the Blue Hens, culminating in a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Brett Gordon to classmate Brian White to propel the ’Cats to their playoff destiny.

The ECAC recognized the efforts of the team which head coach Andy Talley referred to as “the best ever” by awarding Villanova the Lambert Meadowlands Trophy.

The award is given annually to the best football team in the east. This season marks the second time in Talley’s 18-year coaching tenure on the Main Line in which Villanova has received the award.

Individual laurels came in bunches for the ’Cats as well this season. In addition to fielding the best team in the east, ’Nova was also recognized by the ECAC for boasting the best player. Gordon was voted ECAC Player of the Year after becoming only the first quarterback in school history to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season, while completing a record 66.8 percent of his passes, also a record. Gordon was also recognized as Atlantic 10 conference player of the year. The signal caller who emerged as the best player out of the east became one of three finalists for Division I-AA’s most prestigious honor, the Walter Payton Award. The equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, the Payton Award is given annually to the best player in all of Division I-AA football. Gordon finished second in the voting behind fellow QB Tony Romo, in the narrowest margin of defeat in the award’s history.

Several of Gordon’s teammates received postseason honors as well, further proving that the success of the ’Cats’ playoff run was a total team effort. Tight end Matt Chila received ECAC Honorable Mention in addition to joining Gordon on the all-conference first team. Wide receiver Brian White earned second-team status for his 57 receptions for 645 yards to go along with seven touchdowns. Offensive linemen Mike Finn and Sean McCarthy earned third-team honors for the Villanova offense.

The ’Nova defense, arguably the most vastly improved defense in the conference, earned four spots on the third team, with defensive backs Gary Johnson, Brian Hulea and captain Jamison Young and defensive end Terence Taylor garnering distinction. For much of the regular season, the Wildcats led the Atlantic 10 in both total offense and total defense, a testament to the well-roundedness of the squad.

Although the Wildcats earned several team and individual honors, if you ask anyone who followed their season, it was the elements and moments that cannot be measured which came to define them as a superior football team. The invaluable leadership of several fifth-year seniors on both offense and defense, combined with solid team chemistry and camraderie willed the ’Cats to go above and beyond their goals. The final drive against Delaware, a come-from-behind victory over last year’s national runner-up Furman in the opening round of the playoffs, putting forth a valiant effort through the pain of injuries against powerhouse McNeese; these became the marks of a great team.