Villanova Opens its Season With a 45-17 Rout Over Lehigh


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Jaaron Hayek had 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns on Friday.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

The Connor Watkins era has officially begun at Villanova. 

The junior quarterback from Williamsport, Pa., threw for 298 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in his first game as the starter. Watkins’ yardage was the most by any quarterback in program history in their first start. Watkins’ efforts contributed to No. 6 Villanova’s 45-17 rout of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Friday evening. The ‘Cats improved to 1-0 on the season with the win.

“I feel like it’s just a testament to the coaching staff and the players around me,” Watkins said of his performance in his first start. 

Senior wide receiver Jaaron Hayek was Watkins’ preferred target on the day, as he hauled in six passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. One of the touchdowns came on a 78-yard play where Watkins scrambled to his left then threw back across the field to the right hash to find a wide-open Hayek, who cruised the remaining 15 yards into the end zone.

“[Watkins] has a big arm,” Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said of the play postgame. “I think he showed that again today, especially that scramble to your left throw it across your body to the right to a guy who broke free. I don’t know how far that ball traveled in the air, but he can get it downfield. He has a big arm and he has a lot of confidence to put it where it needs to go.”

That touchdown was part of a stretch where the ‘Cats scored 24 unanswered points in under seven minutes of game time. That run took the game from 0-0 with four minutes left in the first to 24-0 with just under nine minutes to go in the second. 

The ‘Cats’ defense showed up to play as well, limiting the Mountain Hawks to 17 and causing multiple turnovers. Harvard transfer graduate linebacker Danny Abraham had an interception, and Rice transfer graduate linebacker Antonio Montero and sophomore defensive back Ty Trinh both forced fumbles, one of which was recovered. Montero was also credited with 10 tackles in his debut as a Wildcat. 

The ‘Cats were able to capitalize on those created turnovers as well, as both times the Mountain Hawks turned the ball over the Wildcats were able to score touchdowns on the ensuing offensive possession. 

“Anytime you get a turnover and create momentum for the team, it’s greatly appreciated,” Abraham said postgame. “I think we have a great unit that strives to get better day in and day out, so whenever we can create electric plays, it’s great for our team.”

Ferrante said he was happy with the opening day win, especially since it was the first time the ‘Cats had opened at home since 2004.

“That was pretty cool,” Ferrante said. “Guys brought great emotion, we had a lot of big plays, which I’m excited about. [We] put points on the board. Obviously, there will be some correctable things. We held onto the ball, we got two turnovers in our favor and we didn’t give them any, so fairly clean game, just got to play more consistent.”

The Wildcats will travel to face the Long Island University Sharks next week, which should pose a similar challenge to the Mountain Hawks. Both teams were voted in preseason polls to be near the bottom of their respective conferences. LIU is in just its fourth season as an FCS team, having been NCAA Division II until the 2019 campaign. The ‘Cats are scheduled for a 1 P.M. kick off in Long Island on Sept. 10.

Watkins and Co.’s first significant test of the season will come when the ‘Cats travel north to West Point to take on the Army Black Knights. The Black Knights are an FBS program, a level higher than the Wildcats’ FCS status. The Wildcats will look to pull off an upset against the Black Knights on Sept. 17 at Noon.