Thumbing his nose at critics

Cailin Brophy

Villanova quarterback Brett Gordon head to Chattanooga, Tenn. this Thursday, however, he’ll be making the trip with a few less people than he had hoped for.

After losing a hard-fought battle to No. 1 McNeese State on Saturday in the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs, the Wildcats’ season came to a close without the chance to play in the national title game in Chattanooga on Friday.

However, as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the top player in Division I-AA football, Gordon will be present at the award ceremony in Tennessee. The third-generation Villanova signal caller will join Tony Romo of Eastern Illinois and Bruce Eugene of Grambling on this year’s all-quarterback ballot.

The 5-foot-10 product of nearby Ambler, Penn. has made it almost as difficult for those voting to deny him the award as he has made it for opposing teams to defeat the offense he has orchestrated all season. Gordon is the only player of the three finalists to lead his team to the playoffs. The matchup against McNeese State, a team whose only loss came at the hands of national juggernaut Nebraska, marked Villanova’s first ever appearance in the national semifinals. Gordon had his 12th-ranked Wildcats, who were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in their conference prior to the season, entering the second half against the Cowboys with a 21-7 lead, throwing for two touchdowns on 232 yards in the first half alone. If that isn’t enough proof that Gordon is deserving of the award, consider the fact that his clutch throws were coming from a hand with a broken thumb. The injury was sustained in the first quarter of the ‘Cats’ quarterfinal game against Fordham. After suffering the blow to his throwing hand, Gordon finished out the game completing 26 of 30 yards on the day to go along with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Gordon’s grit in his final career game did not go unnoticed.

“You can tell he’s a real tough guy,” McNeese junior linebacker Roderick Royal said after the game. “He can be on my team any day.”

Villanova head coach Andy Talley acknowledged Gordon as the best quarterback in Villanova history after he led a 76-yard touchdown drive with 1:49 left in regulation and no timeouts against Delaware in the final game of the season. Gordon’s play came as no surprise to the coach who has watched him develop over five years.

“Only he could do what he did,” Talley said after the game against McNeese. “He came up with an unbelievable way to throw the ball.”

While leading his team through a 14-game journey that involved come-from-behind victories over archrival Delaware and last year’s national runner-up Furman, Gordon’s brilliant play has been etched into the Atlantic 10 record books. His performance against McNeese gave him a 4,290 yard passing season, good for second in Atlantic 10 history, to go along with 386 single-season completions, tops in conference record books. Gordon also ranks second in the A-10 in career touchdown passes (83), career completions, (833) and career passing yards (9,639).

Brett Gordon and the rest of the nation will find out on Thursday night if his standout season and gutsy play will be good enough to earn him national laurels. If Gordon should win, Villanova will become the only school in history to have three Walter Payton Award winners. Current Philadelphia Eagle Brian Westbrook won the award last year, while receiver Brian Finneran, who is now with the Atlanta Falcons, garnered the honors in 1997.