‘Cats keep playoff hopes alive with win over Tribe



Cailin Brophy

In a series which has historically featured some of the highest scoring outputs in the Atlantic 10, Villanova brought a little something extra to the mix against William & Mary. The Wildcats’ characteristic high-octane offense was still intact, yet it was the new-look defense which was the difference in ’Nova’s 41-20 victory over the 12th-ranked Tribe.

The ’Cats were able to put the game out of reach for William & Mary when they stuffed an early fourth quarter drive coming off ’Nova quarterback Brett Gordon’s only interception of the game. The Tribe had approached as close as ’Nova’s 19-yard line when the defense stepped up and recorded three sacks in the next four plays, including two straight by senior linebacker Jamison Young.

“I thought that was the game right there,” Villanova head coach Andy Talley said. “When they intercepted the ball and got down field, I kept thinking about last year when they came back on us in the fourth quarter. That stuff kind of haunts you.”

The win not only enabled the 11th-ranked Wildcats to shake off the monkey which had been residing on their backs for three-straight seasons against the Tribe, but also kept their playoff hopes alive in the highly-competitive Atlantic 10 conference.

“This was an elimination game for us,” Talley said. “It meant a lot. We needed to play a complete game and play well.”

Villanova’s emergent defense was the perfect complement to what continues to be a powerful and balanced offensive strike, one to which William & Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock gave due credit.

“They executed extremely well,” he said. “We were playing catchup, it seemed, all day and we could never get a stop on them that we needed.”

In a battle between two of the best quarterbacks in all of Division I-AA football, Gordon once again led the Wildcat offense with impressive numbers and, with the help of his team’s defensive effort, overshadowed the play of Tribe signal caller Dave Corley.

“He [Gordon] is a very, very efficient quarterback who knows how to buy himself time and can see little lanes to duck in and out of,” Laycock said.

After the disappointing loss to UMass two weeks ago, the Wildcats were eager to get back on the field and get back to their winning ways.

The intensity showed early, as Gordon orchestrated 56-yard, five play drive which culminated in a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Dieser with 7:25 remaining in the first quarter. The Wildcats had excellent field position on the drive as a result of a Gordon punt on ’Nova’s opening drive which buried the Tribe at the one-yard line for their opening drive.

“That play was something we put in just the last two weeks,” Gordon said. “In this case, we just wanted to catch them off guard and pin them deep.”

Villanova kept up the momentum throughout the first half, adding two more touchdowns before the intermission, one coming off a five-yard run from fullback Phil DiGiacomo and another off a 30-yard pass to receiver Shaz Brown.

William & Mary was able to get on the board with a 43-yard field goal from kicker Greg Kuehn to go along with an eight-yard scoring strike from Corley to wideout Danny Wade to narrow the ’Cats’ lead to 21-10 at the break.

The Tribe were actually able to outscore the ’Cats 13-10 in the third stanza, but the continued consistency of both the offense and defense was able to hold William & Mary at bay.

’Nova’s defense took control in the fourth quarter, holding William & Mary scoreless, and when the offense added its final touchdown of the afternoon, the victory was sealed for the ’Cats.

With the win, the ’Cats improve to 7-2 overall, with a 4-2 mark in conference play. In celebration of the win, Talley enjoyed a Cuban cigar prior to the post-game press conference.

“I told our players that if we won this game, we would light this cigar up like I used to back in the day,” he said with a smile.

The victory smoke was much deserved for coach Talley, who got contributions from all areas of his team.

One bright spot for the ’Cats was the establishment of a strong running game, an element of their attack which is usually not as much of a presence, but which was a key element in today’s game. True freshman Martin Gibson had a breakout game for the ’Cats in the ground attack.

“We made a commitment to play him [Gibson] more he’s an exceptional player,” Talley said. “He hits the hole very quickly and has some shake and speed.”

If this game is any indication, the ’Cats are in a good position to make a strong push towards the postseason and the feeling throughout the locker room is undoubtedly positive.

“Our last two weeks of practice have been the best we’ve had all season,” Gordon said. “The results really showed on the field.”

Villanova will head to the road next weekend when they travel to Boston to take on Northeastern at 12:30 p.m. With only three games remaining in the regular season for the Wildcats, every game counts in the fight for a playoff berth.