‘Cats tear up Big East foe Rutgers



Cailin Brophy

Early on in its 2002 campaign, the Wildcat football team has already begun to dispel its critics and prove that it is still one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 conference. The ‘Cats earned their first-ever victory over a Division I-A opponent on Saturday since reinstating the football program in 1985, when they defeated Rutgers, 37-19.

Villanova’s win over the Scarlet Knights came in convincing fashion under the lights of Rutgers Stadium in front of over 20,000 spectators, as they lead the entire game in what was a solid performance on both sides of the ball.

“I think it’s as good an opener as we’ve had in years,” head coach Andy Talley said. “Frankly, it was unexpected, but if we can maintain that kind of focus, we have a chance to be pretty good this year.”

‘Nova got on the board and set the tone early on, when senior quarterback Brett Gordon directed a 45-yard touchdown pass into the hands of wide receiver Brian White less than three minutes after kickoff.

Rutgers was able to even the score with five minutes remaining in the first quarter by capitalizing on a Wildcat fumble, enabling Rutgers QB Ryan Cubit to throw a touchdown pass of his own and knot the score at seven all.

The ‘Cats continued to move the chains in the second quarter, thanks to the hard-nosed play of sophomore Phil DiGiacomo. The fullback was the catalyst of a nine-play, 69-yard drive that culminated in his 18-yard rushing touchdown, only the second score of his career as a Wildcat.

‘Nova padded its lead to 17-7 when redshirt freshman kicker Adam James sent the ball through the uprights with 4:29 remaining in the first stanza. The Wildcats would not be able to head to the locker room with as comfortable an advantage, however, as Rutgers turned a Gordon interception into six points, missing the extra kick but heading to the locker room with a more manageable four-point deficit to the Wildcats.

If it was offense that enabled the ‘Cats to jump ahead of the Scarlet Knights in the first half, it was defense that kept Rutgers at bay early on in the second, as well as throughout much of the game.

“I thought they [the defense] played a magnificent game and really gave us a chance to win,” Talley said. “We made it tough on them to run the ball and we had a really good pass rush when they did throw the ball.”

After ‘Nova had to punt away its first drive, sophomore ends Terrence Taylor and Jamil Butler squashed Rutgers’ drive by batting away passes and making key tackles on third down, forcing them to give the ball back to ‘Nova. With the ball back in the hands of Gordon, the ‘Cats struck again, this time with a textbook play executed flawlessly by the offense.

With just over 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Gordon pitched the ball back to tailback Terry Butler, who then flicked the ball back to the quarterback. The fake gave Gordon more than enough time to throw a perfect spiral to wideout Shaz Brown who ran it in for the easy score, putting the ‘Cats more comfortably in the lead, 24-13.

Rutgers’ offensive woes continued in the third quarter. A pass interference call on ‘Nova corner Gary Johnson allowed the Scarlet Knights to advance 15 yards to the ‘Nova 11, but Rutgers kicker Ryan Sands botched a 33-yard field goal attempt.

Seeking to put the game away on its next drive, ‘Nova was interrupted by a Gordon interception which gave Rutgers field position deep in ‘Nova’s territory and allowed the Scarlet Knights to score their third touchdown of the day. However, linerbacker Brian Hulea broke up the two-point conversion attempt to keep the score at 24-19.

The ‘Cats were able to close out the game in the fourth quarter relying on the stellar play yet again of Gordon, White and DiGiacomo. Gordon was unstoppable in the pocket, recording his seventh career 300-yard passing game, completing 24 of 39 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns.

White’s 11th grab, a sprawling catch on third and three, not only gave the Wildcats the first down but also broke his career marks for receptions in a game, while also shattering his old mark of 127 receiving yards. By game’s end, the Hamilton, N.J. product had amassed 165 yards on 12 catches, good enough to earn him Atlantic 10 and National Offensive Player of the Week honors. After DiGiacomo pulled down a six-yard reception for his second score of the contest, the game was in the books. The ‘Cats added an extra touchdown for good measure, as Butler, who also had a solid performance facing the pressure of replacing last season’s star running back Brian Westbrook, recorded his first Wildcat touchdown. The total team effort resulted in the Wildcats leaving Rutgers Stadium with a convincing 37-19 upset win.

“We came together as a team, we were mentally prepared and did what we set out to do,” DiGiacomo said.

The victory not only served notice that the Wildcats are still a team to beat, but also vaulted them to number 15 in the Sports Network Top 25 poll. However, the ‘Cats are aware that they still have an entire season ahead of them.

“Of course we’re going to celebrate, but we have to remember that this game means absolutely nothing towards the rest of our season because it’s not a conference game,” White said. “Our goal is to get back to playoffs and win a conference title.”

‘Nova’s next obstacle will be a trip upstate New York to face Patriot Leaguers Colgate Saturday, game time set for 1 p.m.