Wildcats squander 14-0 lead agains A-10 foe Maine



Cailin Brophy

With a raucous crowd and two solid wins behind them, the Wildcats seemed ready to pounce on Maine in their Atlantic 10 opener Saturday night. However, the Black Bears struck back with a vengeance in the second half, roaring back to defeat ‘Nova, 21-14, handing the ‘Cats their first loss of the season and spoiled their home opener.

The Wildcats outplayed the Bears in the first half, capitalizing on penalties and coming up with big plays. Wildcat receiver Shaz Brown stepped up big for his team, who had to do without the services of standout wideout Brian White, who tore his hamstring in warmups.

Brown pulled in a 48-yard bomb from quarterback Brett Gordon to set up first and goal for the ‘Cats with under three minutes left in the first quarter.

Gordon then put the ball in the hands of sophomore tailback Terry Butler, who ran straight in for the score.

The Wildcat offense put together another strong drive in the second quarter to go up two touchdowns on the Black Bears.

Strong runs from fullback Cameron Cross and Butler culiminated in an 11-yard completion to tight end Matt Chila, extending the ‘Cats’ lead to 14-0 with 10:14 remaining in the half.

The Black Bears would not be shut out in the first half, however, thanks to the scrambling, scrappy play of quarterback Jake Eaton. Eaton kept his poise out of the pocket, completing passes under pressure and running the ball himself when needed to gain first downs. His play, along with a monster performance from his favorite target, wideout Stefan Gomes, led to the first Maine touchdown, a 72-yard drive, spanning 5:53, which narrowed the score to a more manageable 14-7 margin.

Despite maintaining the lead, the ‘Cats were unable to capitalize on two field goal opportunities in the first half, which would have given them a more comfortable cushion going against a Maine team which has a proven ability to make comebacks.

The Wildcats were unable to capitalize on Maine’s opening kickoff fumble, when redshirt freshman kicker Adam James missed a 43-yard field goal. James later missed a 46-yard field goal attempt.

The missed scoring opportunities came back to haunt the ‘Cats in the second half, as the Bears carried over their momentum from the first stanza. The Bears rattled the ‘Nova offense with a noticeably more aggressive defense, while the ‘Cats began to beat themselves with penalties. Brown continued to make big plays for ‘Nova, including another phenomenal catch, a 37 yard grab which brought his team just inside the red zone. Villanova failed to score on that drive, however, when James missed his second straight field goal attempt, this time from 32 yards away.

On the ensuing Maine drive, penalties helped the Black Bears advance up the field until Eaton completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to receiver Paris Minor to even up the score.

The fourth quarter saw more of the same, with Eaton making clutch passes and runs while ‘Nova continued to rack up penalties. With the ball on the ‘Nova 31-yard line, Eaton pitched the ball to tailback James Henry, who shot straight past the ‘Nova blitz and into the end zone for what would prove to be the game-winning score.

“We looked at what they had and sent in a fifth defensive back,” coach Talley said of the play. “But we blitzed right into the play and should have hit it cold, and they just ran right by.”

With their momentum zapped at this point, the ‘Cats were unable to mount a comeback, as their offensive woes continued throughout the remainder of the game.

“They blitzed more in the second and gave us some problems, but the plays were still there,” Gordon said. “We just didn’t execute.”

With under three minutes left in the contest, Villanova had a final chance to even the score. However, a punt by Maine was ruled to have made contact with a ‘Nova player, allowing Maine to recover the ball at ‘Nova’s 11-yard line in what was a controversial call.

“That’s a call, in my opinion, that you don’t make unless you are absolutely on top of it,” Talley said. “It’s just a call I think you don’t make at that point.”

The Wildcats will be looking to avenge their first Atlantic 10 loss when they take on the University of New Hampshire Saturday at noon at Villanova Stadium.