‘Cats fall to Rams

Amy Watkins

Villanova (6-3, 4-2 CAA) traveled to Rhode Island (4 -5, 3-3 CAA) last weekend and came home with a disappointing loss, as errors by the offense and special teams allowed URI to take the contest 17-14. The loss ended a three-game winning streak.

The Wildcats created problems for themselves throughout the day, including the commission of three turnovers, a blocked punt, and an errant field goal attempt. Also credit Rhode Island for turning in a strong defensive effort, limiting the ‘Cats to just 218 yards of total offense and dominating the running game with a 167-68 advantage in rushing yards.

Senior quarterback Chris Whitney led ‘Nova in rushing with 32 yards on 12 carries. He also completed 22 of 33 passes for 150 yards, connecting with seven different Villanova receivers and throwing a touchdown. Whitney had one pass intercepted, which URI took into the end zone for the first points of the game with 1:09 remaining in the first quarter.

To stop a Rhode Island drive earlier in the first quarter, sophomore defensive back Eric Loper picked up an interception of his own as URI quarterback Steve Probst looked to give the Rams a first down deep in ‘Cats territory. The pick by Loper, who also led the Wildcats defense with eight tackles, allowed Villanova to regain possession at the URI 4 yard line, but Whitney was picked off several plays later by Rhode Island’s Jarrod Williams, who scored on a 33-yard return. That proved to be the only score of the first half, which ended with URI up 7-0.

Most of the game’s offensive action came in the second half, with Villanova tying the game on the first drive. Senior running back Angelo Babbaro started the Wildcats’ move down the field with a 21-yard kickoff return and finished it with a touchdown, running the ball 3 yards into the end zone with 7:53 remaining in the third.

The third quarter ended with the score knotted 7-7.

A Villanova turnover in the fourth quarter was a game-changer, shifting momentum to the Rams. With 11:09 on the clock, a URI field goal attempt from 34 yards was blocked, allowing the Wildcats to take over at their own 37. After moving into Rams territory, Whitney completed a pass to Dorian Wells, but the URI defense forced a Wells fumble at the 43 yard line. On their ensuing possession, the Rams successfully kicked a field goal from 19 yards and took a 10-7 lead with 3:43 remaining.

Villanova’s offense was slow to recover as Whitney was sacked twice in the final minutes of the game. On fourth down the Wildcats elected to punt from their own 23 yard line, but URI’s Willie McGinnis was able to get in front of the ball and take it into the end zone for a touchdown and a 17-7 URI lead.

‘Nova responded with a quick score of its own, but the rally came too late. Senior linebacker Marquis Kirkland picked up a 37-yard kickoff return, and a personal foul on the kicker set up Whitney on the URI 15 yard line. In two plays, the ‘Nova quarterback was able to connect with junior wide receiver Norman White for the touchdown, cutting the URI lead to 17-14.

Following a three-and-out defensive stop by Villanova, the Wildcats had the ball at their own 36 with 1:02 left in the game, but they couldn’t advance up the field, handing the Rams their fourth win of the season.

Rhode Island’s Probst finished 14-for-21 through the air for 107 yards and ran for 101 yards on 18 carries.

Norman White led the Wildcats in receiving with eight receptions for 75 yards. Another reliable target for Whitney was sophomore wide receiver Dorian Wells, who caught six passes for 29 yards.

Villanova will look to rebound from the loss in its final two regular season outings, starting with a home game against New Hampshire on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. at Villanova Stadium.