Football to Face 5-2 William & Mary Saturday


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

The Wildcats face third placed William and Mary in a crucial CAA game.

Matthew Ryan, Staff Writer

After securing its first shutout since 2017, defeating No. 18 Rhode Island 44-0, No. 4 Villanova once again faces a strong CAA opponent at home in William & Mary. The Tribe are 5-2 (3-1 CAA) and sit at third place in the conference, behind only James Madison and the 6-1 (4-0 CAA) Wildcats.

William & Mary is coming off an impressive outing itself, defeating Towson, 40-14. The Tribe finished with 529 total yards of offense and forced a season-high six turnovers.

Led by freshman quarterback Darius Wilson, William & Mary’s offense ranks in the middle of the FCS, averaging 24.6 points per game. Wilson has passed for 828 yards, with five touchdowns and six interceptions, but is also contributing significantly on the ground, rushing for 297 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Cole Blackman is the Tribe’s leading receiver, hauling in 15 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.

Villanova’s passing defense ranks in the top-30, and senior cornerback Christian Benford leads its secondary. Benford leads the Wildcats in pass breakups (10), and his five interceptions are the most on the team and tied for the most in FCS.

Junior running back Donavyn Lester is the workhorse in a William & Mary run game that ranks 15th at 211 yards per game. Lester has five rushing touchdowns, three coming last week, and he has run for 487 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman Malachi Imoh (57.3 yards per game) and junior Bronson Yoder (53.6 ypg) are also key contributors to the run game.

Stopping the rushing attack will be pivotal for the Wildcats, but they are more than capable of doing so. Villanova’s top-10 scoring defense (15.4 ppg) is ranked fifth in rushing yards allowed with 74 per game. Graduate linebacker Forrest Rhyne, senior linebacker Amin Black and graduate defensive lineman Malik Fisher highlight Villanova’s front seven.

In its aforementioned victory over Rhode Island, Villanova played exceptionally well from start to finish. The Wildcats bounced back from a sloppy offensive showing against winless Albany, scoring five touchdowns — three on the ground and two in the air — and knocking in three field goals. Villanova’s defense shut out the Rams and forced four turnovers, its most since the season opener against Lehigh.

“I thought our guys came and had a lot of enthusiasm, energy, [at the] beginning of the game,” Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said. “We’re able to pretty much maintain that all four quarters, which we really haven’t been able to do in other games.”

Graduate quarterback Daniel Smith leads Villanova’s offense, which ranks in the top-20 at 34.6 ppg. Smith is averaging just under 200 yards passing per contest and has thrown 14 touchdowns and four interceptions on the season. Junior Rayjoun Pringle is Smith’s number one target with 511 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this year. Wideouts junior Jaaron Hayek (35.7 ypg) and senior Dez Boykin (35.6 ypg), and senior tight end Todd Summers (25.6 ypg) are all major contributors to the receiving game as well.

Villanova’s 25th ranked rushing offense (189.6 ypg) is headlined by graduate running back Justin Covington, who has 469 yards and three touchdowns. Covington missed last week’s game and is considered day-to-day. In Covington’s absence last week, senior running backs Jalen Jackson and junior DeeWil Barlee were featured. Jackson has rushed for 311 yards and three touchdowns this year, and Barlee has added 287 rushing yards of his own.

The Tribe’s 29th ranked defense (21.3 PPG) is led up front by junior defensive lineman Nate Lynn who has 8.5 sacks in just six games. Senior defensive lineman Will Kiely has added five sacks to the CAA’s second-leading group of QB sackers (19). Senior safety Gage Herdman leads the team with three interceptions, and junior cornerback Ryan Poole has the second most tackles (42) and most pass breakups (nine).

With the playoffs quickly approaching, Saturday’s matchup at 1 p.m. is a pivotal one for both programs.