‘Nova advances to quarterfinals for first time since 2010

Frank Scicchitano

On Saturday night, the football team welcomed the Liberty Flames to Villanova Stadium for a matchup in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

Despite four turnovers and brutal weather conditions, Villanova overcame a 10-0 deficit by rallying in the fourth quarter with a 15-point charge to secure a 29-22 victory and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.

The Wildcats used a strong effort from their defense, which only surrendered three points in the entire second half, to keep the game close and give the offense a shot to win the game late in the fourth quarter.

Junior quarterback John Robertson was limited in the passing game, completing just eight passes on 19 attempts. He did, however, manage to rack up 217 yards and a touchdown through the air thanks to a pair of big plays to wide receiver Kevin Gulyas.

Gulyas, a 5-foot-11 junior, was once again a big play-maker for the Wildcats hauling in just two passes for a total of 157 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown catch that would set up a game-tying two point conversion early in the fourth quarter. His other long reception was for 87 yards earlier in the game to set up Villanova’s first touchdown of the night.

With the weather conditions hindering Villanova’s ability to throw the football effectively, junior running back Kevin Monangai led the Wildcats’ ground attack. He carried the ball 20 times for 102 yards and picked up multiple first downs on Villanova’s game-winning touchdown drive late in the game.

As he has done all season, Robertson also contributed greatly to the Wildcats’ running game. The Walter Payton Award finalist finished the night with exactly 100 yards on 18 carries and a pair of short touchdown runs.

Liberty opened the game by running Chris Gough’s opening kickoff back 72 yards inside Villanova’s 30 yard line. After six plays, the Flames took a 7-0 lead on a one-yard run by quarterback Josh Woodrum.

Villanova went three-and-out on its first possession and gave the ball back to Liberty who ended their ensuing drive with a field goal.

In the second quarter, Villanova’s senior safety Joe Sarnese intercepted a Woodrum pass, but the Wildcats gave the ball back on a fumble by Monangai that set Liberty up with possession near midfield.

Following the turnover, the Flames’ Darrin Peterson took a screen pass and turned it into a 48-yard gain that appeared to be another touchdown for Liberty.  After reviewing the play, the referees determined Peterson had stepped out of bounds at the five-yard line, and the score was negated.

Villanova’s stopped Liberty on three straight plays and held them to a field goal which made the score 13-0.

The Wildcats’ offense was given a spark on the following possession when Robertson found Gulyas on a deep pass down the middle for an 87-yard gain. Two plays later, Robertson found the end zone on a 3-yard run that put Villanova on the board.

Following the score, Liberty gave the ball back to Villanova after fumbling the kickoff return setting the Wildcats up with field position inside the Flames’ 20-yard line.

Senior running back Austin Medley carried the ball four straight times and crossed the goal line on a one-yard touchdown run to give Villanova its first lead of the game following the extra point.

Just as the momentum seemed to be shifting in favor of the Wildcats, Liberty’s pass rush sacked Robertson late in the second quarter and forced him to fumble. Safety Nick Newman scooped the loose ball up and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Flames back on top.

After a failed two-point conversion attempt, Liberty held a 19-14 lead, which it took into halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Villanova’s defense forced Liberty to go three-and-out, but a special teams miscue cost the Wildcats the chance to regain possession. The Flames capitalized on the mistake by driving down the field and increasing their lead to eight points following another field goal.

That would be the final time in the game that Liberty scored as Villanova’s defense stepped up and made sure their team had a chance to win the game.

The Wildcats came up with a big stop early in the fourth quarter and returned to the end zone when Robertson connected with Gulyas for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Following the score, Robertson scrambled and avoided multiple Liberty defenders on his way to a successful two-point conversion attempt.

Later, Liberty forced another Robertson fumble, but once again failed to move the ball against the Wildcats’ defense.

Villanova’s offense got the ball back with 8:23 remaining in the game and embarked on an eventual game-winning touchdown drive that took more than seven minutes off the game clock. 

The Wildcats wore down Liberty’s defense by running the ball 18 straight times, picking up six first downs, and forcing the Flames to burn all three of their timeouts. 

Monangai, Medley, and Robertson combined for 84 yards and the epic drive was finished off with a one-yard touchdown run by Villanova’s quarterback. The score was 29-22 following the successful extra point and that would hold as the defense halted Liberty’s attempt to tie the game in the closing seconds.

Villanova is set to matchup with Sam Houston State in the FCS quarterfinals this Saturday. That game will be at Villanova Stadium and kickoff time will be announced later this week.