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Football Defeats Rhode Island 35–9 to Open Conference Play

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Villanova is now 1-0 in conference play.

On Saturday, Sept. 23, No. 25 Villanova battled No. 17 Rhode Island through fierce winds and driving rain to claim a home victory, 35–9. The game was the Wildcats’ first conference game of the season, bringing Villanova’s overall record to 3-1, and its conference record to 1-0. 

“I was really excited to see the way our guys came to play,” head coach Mark Ferrante said. “They had a lot of energy right from the get-go and pretty much kept the pressure on them the whole game.”

The Wildcats came out strong for Family Weekend fans, storming down the field on their opening drive. Several deep throws, including a 34-yard completion to graduate wide receiver Jaaron Hayek and 31-yard completion to graduate wide receiver Rayjuon Pringle, brought the Wildcats all the way to the Rams’ 16 yard line. 

However, the Rams intercepted another pass intended for Hayek, stifling the Wildcats’ initial momentum. 

On their second possession, the Wildcats covered 65 yards in three minutes and six plays, including a 38-yard run by graduate quarterback Connor Watkins. Just a few plays later, Watkins became the first to score, rushing one yard up the middle for a touchdown.

Watkins was successful on another quarterback keeper just four minutes later, plowing 23 yards up the middle to bring the score to 14–0.

The Rams got on the board early in the second quarter, knocking in a 27-yard field goal.

The Villanova offense continued to adjust to both the challenging weather conditions and a dynamic Rhode Island defensive line.

“Rhode Island had a lot of shifting up front at the line of scrimmage and almost every play, they were giving us different looks,” Watkins said. “They had us early on with that, but the O-line settled in and we were able to get the run game going.”

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Watkins scored his third touchdown of the game, driving five yards up the middle.

The Wildcats kept the pressure on as the second half started. 

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, graduate running back TD Ayo-Durojaiye broke through the Rhode Island defense, rushing 63 yards for a fourth Villanova touchdown and 28–3 advantage.

The Rams consistently struggled against a tight Wildcat defense, throwing five incomplete passes in the third quarter.

“It was just an all-around good team defense,” Ferrante said. “[Rhode Island] couldn’t establish much of a run game, so we were able to make them pass the ball a little bit more than they wanted to.”

Early in the fourth quarter, graduate safety Jalen Goodman forced a Rhode Island turnover, returning an interception for 81 yards.

“I saw a big opening down the middle, so I just decided to cut back,” Goodman said. “Once I cut back, I just wanted to make sure I ran with the ball and got the team in a good position for offense.”

Following the interception, graduate running back DeeWil Barlee finished off the drive with a six yard rush for six more points for the Wildcats.

The Wildcat defensive line released its grip on the Rams in the final minutes of the game. Rhode Island was able to run one in for its only touchdown of the day with less than two minutes to go, but it made no difference for a dominant Villanova win.

The defensive line held Rhode Island to 60 rushing yards on the day.

“We knew this was a statement game defensively, so we came ready to play,” Goodman said.

Villanova’s offense amassed 287 total yards on the ground. Both Watkins and Ayo-Durojaiye surpassed 100 rushing yards each.

Looking ahead to Week 5, the Wildcats face a non-conference foe as they travel to New York to take on Albany on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 3:30 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis, Co-Sports Editor
Katie Lewis is a sophomore from Miami, FL in her first year as Co-Sports Editor in 2024. From covering games to writing features and profiles, she loves to find the story behind Villanova sports. Pursuing her enthusiasm for writing and journalism in her studies at Villanova, Katie is double-majoring in English and Communication with concentrations in Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric. When Katie isn’t at Holy Grounds working on her next article, she enjoys playing tennis with Villanova’s club team.
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