Domination: #5 Villanova Pummels #18 Rhode Island, 44-0


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

The Wildcats celebrate after an early defensive stop.

Tyler Moore, Staff Writer

After suffering a narrow defeat to Rhode Island in the 2020-21 season, the Villanova football team shut out the 18th ranked Rams 44-0 in a wet and slippery homecoming matchup. With the win, the Wildcats maintain the number one spot in the CAA and improve to 6-1 overall, 4-0 in conference play.

In their first shutout since 2017, the ‘Nova offense outgained Rhode Island by a 511-165 yard margin, composed of 297 yards rushing and 214 yards passing. Senior running back Jalen Jackson completed his first career 100 yard rushing game with 12 carries and two touchdowns. Junior running back DeeWil Barlee added to the rushing offense by running 19 times for 99 yards, and graduate quarterback Daniel Smith threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Two receivers helped him out, as junior wide receiver Rayjoun Pringle went for 91 yards and a touchdown, and senior tight end Todd Summers went for 31 yards and a touchdown. The ‘Nova defense forced five fumbles, recovering three, and intercepted one pass. 

“Our guys held their focus,” head coach Mark Ferrante said postgame. “They played with enthusiasm and passion. It was a complete effort by all three phases, and I’m happy with our maturity level.”

Villanova received the kick to start the game, and despite the Wildcats’ dominant play, the first half got off to a slow start as the rain came down. The rain’s impact was extreme and evident right away as a 3rd down pass to Barlee slipped through his hands, forcing a Wildcat punt.

On the Rams first play of the game, a run up the middle went downhill as the ball fell out. Redshirt freshman free safety Ethan Potter recovered the fumble to get the ball back for the Wildcats, taking over at the URI 31.

‘Nova’s offense started to get to work following the quick shift in momentum. Smith kept the ball and ran it for five yards before handing it to Barlee on the next play. Barlee ran for a gain of nine yards for a 1st down. On a 3rd down play, Smith found a way to convert, as he sent a six yard pass to Summers for 1st and goal. The ball was handed to Jackson for a short run near the goal line. After questions of whether the ball popped out or not, possession stuck with the ‘Cats and a personal foul by the Rams defense helped give an extra down to the offense. Jackson ran up the middle on the following play into the endzone to put Villanova up 7-0. 

Rhode Island’s next possession seemed promising, as a few small plays kept the chains moving. However, the rain once again played a factor, as a pass on 3rd down slipped through the hands of a receiver, and on a 4th down conversion attempt, wide receiver Matt Pires slipped on the turf as he reached for the ball. With a turnover on downs, Villanova retook possession.

The Wildcat offense once again took advantage of their defense’s help, as Barlee broke some tackles on 2nd and 5 for a 15 yard run and a 1st down. Jackson then kept the drive alive on a 3rd down play by converting up the middle. On 3rd and 4 deep in Rhode Island territory, Smith found Summers for a pass in the endzone, stretching the lead to 14-0.

The Rams offense needed a response after going down two touchdowns with the first quarter ending, but the ‘Nova defense forced a three and out and the Wildcats got the ball back.

The drive started with a pass to Summers up the middle for 14 yards and a 1st down at the ‘Nova 36. Smith handed the ball to Barlee on the next play, taking it 12 more yards for an additional 1st down. On a 4th and 3 play later in the drive, the ‘Cats found a way to convert, with Barlee running it up the middle for six yards. Just as the drive seemed to be coming to an end, Smith attempted a pass on 3rd down that was intercepted by a Ram defender, but a defensive holding call created a 1st down to save the drive. At the 23 yard line Smith took the snap and looked for Pringle in the endzone, who caught the ball and tip-toed out of bounds for a touchdown and increased the Wildcat lead to 21-0.

Yet again, Rhody needed a response, and at first the drive looked promising. After graduate defensive lineman Malik Fisher forced a fumble that went out of bounds, keeping possession with the Rams, a few good plays and first downs put the team in ‘Nova territory. The prime field position was set up by a long run by running back Justice Antrum, who would have found the end zone if he had not been tripped up by ‘Nova’s redshirt freshman defensive back Ty Trinh. Three stops by the Wildcats created a 4th and 5 for the Rams, and with the deficit so large, the Rams were forced to try and convert. However, a false start added five more yards, and graduate linebacker Forrest Rhyne came up with a huge sack to end the Rams’ best drive of the game.

The Wildcat offense continued to have success, as Barlee continued to push through defenders for more first downs. Summers came up with more short catches to move the chains further, and a 22 yard reception by junior wide receiver Jaaron Hayek got the ‘Cats to the Rhody 25. The drive stalled there, but graduate kicker Cole Bunce made a 41 yard field goal to increase the score to 24-0, sending the game to halftime.

Coming out of the half, the rain began again, after brief blue skies in the first half after the initial downpour. Rhode Island still could not find their groove on offense, as they went three and out to give ‘Nova the ball.

Smith found Pringle for a 42 yard reception to start the drive, and Barlee broke through the middle of the field for 14 yards and another 1st down. After a few missed passes to the endzone, Bunce missed a field goal to keep the score at 24-0.

Rhode Island saw yet another three and out on their next drive as the Wildcat defense continued to dominate. The ‘Nova offense took over and it seemed that they were in shape to score again, as Jackson made a run for 27 yards into URI territory. Smith took the ball on a keeper for twenty yards, but as he attempted to beat the final Ram defender, the ball was punched out and recovered by the Rams. Once again, however, the Rhode Island offense found little room and was forced to punt again. 

The ‘Nova offense was not even close to finished, and continued to pummel the Rams. A breakthrough run by Jackson put the ‘Cats at the URI 43, and Smith squeezed his next pass into a tight window to senior wide receiver Dez Boykin for another first down. Jackson continued his standout day with an easy run for 20 yards all the way to the endzone, putting the ‘Cats up for a convincing 31-0 lead.

However, the defense refused to let up. Senior defensive back Christian Benford intercepted a pass by Hill at the ‘Nova 46, marking a team high fifth interception of the season for Benford. The rain yet again caused disruption to the plays as a few passes from Smith flew through his receivers’ hands, but the ‘Cats added three more points as Bunce was good from 36 yards.

On the offensive side for the Rams, things were looking up yet again, but a holding penalty on a URI lineman ruined any shot at getting on the board, forcing yet another punt. Unfortunately, things got worse for Rhode Island, as the snap flew through the punter’s hands, but he fell on the ball to save a scoop and score. 

’Nova took over on downs in the best starting field position of the whole game, taking over at the URI 24. On 1st and goal at the 8, Jackson put up his final touchdown of the day to increase the lead to 41-0.

Although the result was no longer in doubt, the Rams still tried to prevent the shutout. On a 3rd and 1 play on the ensuing drive, the Villanova defense forced yet another turnover, as freshman defensive lineman Bryce Ganious forced a fumble recovered by junior linebacker Qwahsin Townsel. Bunce nailed a 43 yard field goal to complete the scoring for the Wildcats, leading 44-0.

With the most complete game so far this season, the ‘Cats won a crucial top 25 matchup and prevented the Rams from storming the field, as they had during the Spring season. The team remembered that event and commented on it after the game.

“At the end of the day it’s us versus us,” Jackson said. “There’s always emotions after it, but that was in the Spring.” 

Villanova looks to continue its run at home next Saturday, as William & Mary comes to play on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Tribe enters the game with a 5-2 record, losing just once against FBS opposition, and currently sits in third in the CAA.