VILLANOVA, PA. 9/20/2014 – The #8 Villanova Wildcats trailed the James Madison Dukes by ten points early in the third quarter. The Wildcats looked out of sync, turning the ball over, and were in danger of being upset at home. The team kept its poise. The Wildcats offense got its rhythm back, and the defense came up with big plays. The result was a thirty-five second half outburst propelled the Blue and White to a 49 – 31 victory in their first CAA game of the season. Villanova Coach Andy Talley knows conference games will be highly competitive, and felt his team showed resiliency.
“While we have a good football team, sometimes we can be our worst enemy,” Talley said. “JMU peaked for us. They pushed us to play our very best and make some big plays. We were able to do that and pulled this game out.”
Starting in the second quarter James Madison scored 17 unanswered points to get a 24 – 14 lead. At the start of the third quarter a 33-yard field goal by kicker Connor Arnone was the final score in the run. Holding JMU to a field goal was key for Villanova as a touchdown would have pushed the advantage to 14 points.
“That’s a win to hold them to three points,” said Villanova senior defensive back Joe Sarnese. “Three points we’ll take over seven points. Of we can hold them to zero, that would be ideal.”
Villanova started the comeback. Junior quarterback Robertson threw two touchdown passes to senior tight end Earnest Pettway, catches of 4-yards and 7-yards. The second score capped a 12 play, 86 yard drive in 3:39 giving the Wildcats the lead back at 28 – 24 with 1:54 remaining in the quarter.
“It was crucial,” Robertson said about the two drives. “At halftime we said we had to refocus. We weren’t playing together. We knew we were a better team by playing together, and playing our type of game. The defense came up great in the second half getting us the ball.”
On the ensuing drive Sarnese intercepted a Vad Lee pass at the Villanova 29 yard line turning away JMU, and ended the quarter. It was the big defensive play the Wildcats needed.
“We needed a big play on defense to spark us,” Sarnese said. “We were a little flat which was uncharacteristic of us. We needed a spark and that was the point in the game where we needed to shift momentum.”
From there it was all Wildcats. The Blue and White get a 3-yard touchdown run by senior running back Kevin Monangai. Another pick by Sarnese gave the Blue and White the ball 4 yards away from the endzone. Senior running back Austin Medley crossed the goal line from two yards out two plays later to give Villanova a 42 – 24 lead with 11:03 remaining.
“We needed to come out in the second half and execute,” Lee said. “We didn’t do that.”
Lee scored a touchdown with 5:30 on the clock to get James Madison to within 42 – 31. Nova came right back with a 69-yard shovel pass from Robertson to junior running back Gary Underwood to close the scoring. It was fourth touchdown pass of the game for Robertson tying a career-high in passing touchdowns. His 337 passing yards also set a career mark.
The game started well for Villanova. On their first possession the Wildcats put together an 11 play, 82 yard drive in 4:30 scoring on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Robertson to junior wide receiver Mike Burke. It was the first career touchdown for Burke. Following a long touchdown pass by Lee to Ishmael Hyman, Villanova answered on the next play as senior running back Kevin Monangai went up the middle for a 62-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career.
There was plenty of offense as James Madison had 568 yards of offense while Villanova posted 563. Monangai ran for 129 yards scoring twice. Senior wide receiver Poppy Livers caught 4 passes for 85 yards. The Wildcats fumbled the ball away three times, but got 2 takeaways. For the Dukes Lee passed for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns while running for 72 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Deane Cheatham had 6 receptions for 109 yards scoring one touchdown.
Villanova improves to 2 – 1 and have put up 50 and 49 points in their last two games. The Wildcats travel to Penn next week. The Blue and White did not let the game get away from them, and can use this game as a lesson.
“This was a gut check game for us,” said Talley. “After Syracuse and Fordham, I was not sure what we had, and knowing the CAA, we are going to have games like we had today. We are going to be in jeopardy at times, be behind at halftime, and find if we have the ability to rally and come back. I thought our first half was sloppy with three turnovers. We looked like we weren’t turning it around at the beginning of the third quarter.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian