Villanova Holds Off Holy Cross 21 – 16 in Second Round Game
VILLANOVA, PA. 12/3/2021 –
To advance in playoff football critical plays must be made. Fifth seeded Villanova got big plays in all three phases of the game and needed them to find a way to defeat the Holy Cross Crusaders 21 – 16 in and FCS Playoffs second round game at Villanova Stadium. Multiple times in the game the offense, defense, and special teams contributed to a close win, a necessity in playoff football.
“You need to hit on some big plays along the way,” said Villanova Coach Mark Ferrante. “You need to get some turnovers or big kick returns to shorten the field so you don’t have to take as many plays to get points on the board. But this time of year, it’s just find a way.”
How did such plays affect the game?
Villanova got stops and turnovers at key parts of the game. After a scoreless first quarter the Wildcats got an interception by free safety Ethan Potter, his first of the season. The offense took over at the Holy Cross 43-yard line. In the ensuing drive Wildcats quarterback hit running back Jalen Jackson with a 30-yard pass that set the ball three yards from a score. Running back Justin Covington capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run at the 11:20 mark.
Later in the quarter Smith completed a 20-yard screen pass to Covington and a 24-yard strike to Qadir Ismail setting up the offense at the Crusaders 7-yard line. Covington covered the rest of the yardage with a touchdown run and a 14- 0 lead at halftime.
Holy Cross opened the scoring in the second half when Jordan Fuller threw a 7-yard jump pass to Sean Morris. On the kickoff Villanova returner TD Ayo-Durojaiye fumbled. Terrance Spence recovered for the Crusaders at the Wildcats 25-yard line. The Nova defense held giving up a 22-yard field goal by Derek Ng that brought Holy Cross to within 14 – 10.
Then, redemption for the special teams. Ayo-Durojaiye returned the ensuing kickoff 55-yards to the Crusaders 37-yard line.
“I mean just get it back,” Ayo-Durojaiye said about his mindset on long return. “Obviously, take care of the ball and get the ball back to the offense. I didn’t want to fumble. But then that’s about how you respond to adversity and adversity comes every game. So it was my opportunity to respond.”
Two plays later Smith appeared to be sacked. Yet he managed to escape and gain 19-yards. On the next play running back Jalen Jackson ran it in from 14-yards away giving Villanova a 21 – 10 lead. Holy Cross would not go away. In the fourth quarter they capped a 13-play, 64-yard drive over 5:33 to score on a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matthew Sluka on 4th down. In the drive the offense twice converted fourth-down attempts. The Crusaders attempted a two-point conversion, but Sluka’s pass was intercepted keeping the score at 21 – 16.
The Wildcats defense was tested again. Two times it appeared that Holy Cross had what appeared to be an open receiver for a score, but the ball never got in their hands. The last drive by the Crusaders ended with a turnover on downs.
Holy Cross outgained Villanova 347 – 281 yards, and had the ball for just over 37 minutes in the game. But the defenders never gave up the lead. Linebacker Forrest Rhyne led the team with 21 tackles, a career-high. The unit persevered being on the field for much of the game.
“We really believe in each other,” said Rhyne. “And I think that’s where the resiliency comes from. Even if something bad happens, we don’t turn on each other. We don’t blame each other. We just say we are going to get the next one, and I have faith that each of my teammates are going to make the plays when necessary.”
“Today we leaned heavily on our defense,” Ferrante said. “I think they were out there a majority of the fourth quarter. They pretty much had the ball the whole time. But our guys responded and made a couple of fourth down stops throughout the course of the game.”
Holy Cross finishes the season with a 10 – 3 record. Coach Bob Chesney lauded his team’s effort.
“We played had and continued to fight, said Chesney. “I think they now know they belong. I hope Nova goes really far. I hope they win the whole thing.”
Holy Cross defeated Sacred Heart in the opening round, their first post-season win in program history while Villanova is making its 14th playoff appearance.
Nova will play the winner of the of the Sacramento State vs. South Dakota State game. It will be a home game for the Wildcats if South Dakota State wins. Should 4th seeded Sacramento State prevail, it will be a trip to California.
Written By: Glenn Papazian