Wildcats will battle Bearkats for semi-final spot

Nick Fattori

After coming back from a 13-0 hole last week to defeat Liberty, the football team now continues its run toward an FCS championship in the quarterfinals of the playoffs against Sam Houston State on Sat. afternoon at 1 p.m. at Villanova Stadium. Sam Houston State also had a come-from-behind win over third seed Jacksonville St., 37-26.

Although the teams do not have a common opponent, the Bearkats will be very familiar with ’Nova. 

They are coached by former Delaware Head Coach K.C. Keeler, who appeared in three FCS National Championship games, and won one, from 2002-12. 

After being fired in 2012, he took a year off before landing at Sam Houston. Luckily for Villanova, Keller was an abysmal 4-7 against Villanova during his time with the Blue Hens. 

“It’s always great to see K.C. [Keeler] back in the business,” Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley said. “He’s done a terrific job there and has some, and they have some outstanding players.”

The season did not start out promising for the Bearkats as they had to face preseason number one, Eastern Washington, and LSU within their first three weeks, taking big defeats in both encounters. 

They continued to battle though and after starting 1-3 they won nine of 10 and currently are on a seven-game winning streak, extending their record to a very respectable 10-4.

“They are extremely well coached,” Talley said. “They had a little bit of a rough start, but have turned it around and have beat some really good teams, won the Southland Conference title, and beat Southeastern Louisiana, who was the other team in their league who was really good.”

The Bearkats have found success in running the ball this season, rushing for 257 yards a game, which is good for sixth best rushing attack in the country. 

Four different players are on their roster have now rushed for at least 640 yards and six touchdowns. 

The leader of the four though is senior Keyshawn Hill. To this point, Hill has rushed for 1,049 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also picking up three more scores through the air.

“[Keyshawn] Hill is as good of a back as we have seen all year.” Talley said. “Jalen Overstreet, his backup, is a transfer from Texas, so they are really good.”

The Wildcats’ defense should be up to the task in stopping their potent rushing attack. Against Liberty, it allowed only 64 yards on 37 carries. Coming into the game, Liberty averaged nearly 200 yards on the ground against one of the most difficult schedules in the country.

As good as the rushing attack has been for Sam Houston St., it is the complete opposite for their aerial attack. To say it has been anemic at times would be an understatement. 

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jared Johnson has only completed 55 percent of his passes this season and only averages 180 yards through the air a game. 

As a team, they have thrown for less than 200 yards in 10 of the last 12 games. 

This is a very good sign for the Villanova secondary, which has struggled against strong passing teams to this point. The Wildcats also may be without their starting junior safety Cameron McCurry, who suffered a concussion in the win over Liberty. McCurry is the teams’ fourth leading tackler with 72.  

As much as Johnson has struggled to throw at times, he has showed time and time again that he is a major threat running the ball. He has rushed for over 900 yards and six scores, so the Wildcat defense will need to keep a spy on him throughout the game in order to contain him.

On the other side of the ball, the Bearkats are very weak. 

The defense is ranked 83rd in the country in total defense, giving up 414 yards a game. They have also given up 500 yards on four separate occasions, including an astonishing 624 yards to Eastern Washington. 

One of the few bright spots for their defense is redshirt freshman defensive end P.J. Hall. On the season he has 77 tackles, 27 of which were for a loss, nine sacks and an interception. 

The Villanova offensive line will have to zero in on him if ’Nova wishes to establish its rushing dominance once again.

Game time is set for 1 p.m. in Villanova Stadium and can be streamed live online on ESPN3. 

The winner will square off against either the second ranked Bison of North Dakota St., or the seventh seed Coastal Carolina.

“I think having it [home field advantage] is very important,” Talley said. 

“Against Liberty we probably would have lost the game if it were away. I think being at home makes your comfort zone so much better. So I think being home is tremendous for us.”