‘Cats look to Maine-tain momentum against Bears



Cailin Brophy

“Bittersweet” was one of the words used by senior quarterback Brett Gordon to describe last year’s football campaign. Last season, the Wildcats finished with an 8-3 record, good enough to earn them a four-way share of the Atlantic 10 title. However, because of tie-breakers, the ‘Cats were unable to advance to the playoffs. When the Wildcats take the field tomorrow night in their home opener, they will face one of the teams who kept them out of the playoffs, co-defending Atlantic 10 champs, the Maine Bears.

If ‘Nova had been able to turn one of its three losses into a win, it would have snatched sole possession of the Atlantic 10 title and a berth in the playoffs. With the combined margin of loss in the three games totaling only 10 points, that possibility was not far from reality. One of those tough losses came at the hands of the Maine Bears, who were able to overcome a 19-point third quarter deficit on their own field to slip by Villanova, 44-40. Maine QB Jake Eaton led three straight scoring drives in the third which the ‘Cats had no answer for, while superb performances by ‘Nova quarterback Gordon and senior running back Brian Westbrook were overshadowed by the loss.

But it’s a new season now, and with the strength of two solid road wins behind them, including a victory over Division I-A Rutgers of the Big East and a shutout win over the Colgate Raiders, the eleventh-ranked Wildcats are primed and ready for a battle in the trenches with No. 6 Maine. Quarterbacks Gordon and Eaton are back for their senior seasons and have proven their worth already as top players at their position in the Atlantic 10. Both teams are in the top four for scoring offense, with Maine averaging a league-second best 39.5 points per game, while the ‘Cats have been putting up 28.5 on their opponents. Gordon and Eaton have been stellar, placing in the top four in passing average per game, total offense and pass efficiency.

Yet the matchup between these two players only begins to scratch the surface of the intensity of this competition. Maine and Villanova feature two of the best wide receiving corps in the conference. Wildcat seniors Brian White and Shaz Brown are the perfect complement to Gordon’s arm. White had a career game against Rutgers, breaking his previous records for receptions and receiving yards, while Brown has overcome two ACL surgeries and is ready to break out in his senior season.

All these factors combine for what should be an extremely exciting and highly contested matchup between two of the conference’s top squads. However, Villanova head coach Andy Talley knows that if his team doesn’t bring their best game to the field, it could end up being a long day for them.

“They have a very good team and their defense is among the best in the league,” he said.

Talley also acknowledged the scrambling abilities of the scrappy Eaton, as well as the speedy wideout combo of Stefan Gomes and Paris Minor. Talley and the rest of the team know the key to winning will be to contain these players.

“We can’t let Eaton run, we have to keep him in the pocket,” Talley said. “We also have to eliminate the big 50 and 60 yards plays, as well as handle their four-man speed rush and give Brett [Gordon] time to throw.” The starting quarterback echoed his coaches sentiments as well, commenting on the mentality with which his team will enter Saturday’s game.

“We’re approaching this as a championship type game even though it’s early in the season,” Gordon said. “This will be our first really big test.”