From the opening kickoff, Villanova made it apparent that they weren’t underdogs. Offensively and defensively, they proved that they were able to hang with the FBS team from the ACC. In the first drive, Villanova’s offense showed glimpses of success. Slowly but surely, they were able to methodically move the ball down the field before ultimately having to punt. On the following Syracuse drive, the Orange found themselves punting after going three-and-out. During the punt, a questionable running into the kicker penalty was called on Cameron McCurry. Syracuse’s drive was kept alive and they would soon after punish the Wildcats for their costly mistake. Prince Tyson-Gulley broke free on a 65 yard run for the first touchdown of the game.
Villanova would piece together another drive, except this time they would be halted in field goal range. With the graduation of four year kicker/punter Mark Hamilton, the Wildcats looked to Chris Gough to take over full-time kicking duties. Gough missed his first field goal attempt as the kick went wide left. Regardless, the Wildcats continued to keep pushing forward. The defense responded with another three-and-out. John Robertson continued to get the job done through the air and on the ground with his legs. After he converted a crucial fourth down play, Robertson connected with Poppy Livers on a pass to bring the Wildcats deeper into the redzone. Kevin Monangai had a few bruising runs before ultimately punching it in for the touchdown. With the game tied, Syracuse marched down the field and picked apart the Villanova secondary. The Wildcat defense was able to finally settle down and the Orange would settle for a field goal.
A key moment in the game took place deep into the second quarter when Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt was tackled as he tried to run with the ball. After the play ended, Hunt delivered a left cross to the helmet of Villanova’s Dillon Lucas. Penalty flags flew in from all directions and Hunt was ejected from the game. With Hunt sent to the locker room, in came sophomore quarterback Austin Wilson. Wilson would quickly prove that he was a competent passer. The score would remain 10-7 in Syracuse’s favor as both teams went to the locker room for halftime.
The Orange would receive the ball to start off the second half and they pieced together a successful drive that would result in a touchdown. Adonis Ameen-Moore took it up the gut for a 2-yard touchdown, giving the Orange a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter. The game would take a defensive turn, as both teams would trade unsuccessful drives. Deep into the third quarter, Syracuse would punt the football. Poppy Livers was back to return the punt and he would take it all the way to the house, weaving through the Syracuse defense. The big special teams touchdown would add to Livers’ great game and bring the Wildcats to within three points.
In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had another long offensive drive that would bring them deep into the heart of Syracuse territory. The Wildcats couldn’t get a touchdown, but settled for the field goal to tie the game instead. Villanova’s defense came up big once again, forcing Syracuse to punt midway through the fourth quarter. The Wildcats did a great job of chewing the clock while moving the chains. A pass in the middle to Earnest Pettway brought Villanova into the redzone. After a few more plays to wind down the clock, Villanova would line up for the field goal with 15 seconds remaining. Chris Gough missed the potential game-winning 25-yard field goal and the game was headed for overtime.
In overtime, Villanova was first on offense and their drive ended in a 27-yard field goal. Syracuse was able to take the ball to the 2-yard line, thanks to a run by Ameen-Moore. However, Wildcat defense came up big once again and produced a goal line stand. As a result, Syracuse had to go for the field goal in order to tie the game.
Now in double overtime, the Orange had possession of the ball first. The Wildcats produced what appeared to be another goal line stand. However, on 4th-and-goal, Syracuse pulled a card out of their sleeve. They successfully went for a fake field goal that resulted in a touchdown. While the Villanova line successfully snuffed it out, the pass coverage broke down for one second, allowing the Syracuse receiver to break free and reel in the pass. The Wildcats now had to score a touchdown or go home. After a crucial third down conversion to set up 1st and goal, Robertson connected with Gary Underwood in the end zone for the score. Underwood came up with the catch in double coverage.
Andy Talley opted to go for two. With everything riding on the next play, the Wildcats went for a QB Draw that was disguised as a fake wheel route pass. Syracuse’s defensive line shut down the two-point conversion attempt and the Orange would emerge victorious. The final score was 27-26.
Robertson went 16-for-27 and 199 yards in passing. He also added another 115 yards on the ground off of 34 carries. Kevin Monangai carried the ball seven times for 46 yards. Poppy Livers finished with 138 all-purpose yards. Don Cherry led the defense with a team-high nine tackles.
For Syracuse, Prince Tyson-Gulley ran for 100 yards on 11 carries. Sophomore backup quarterback Austin Wilson finished the night going 11-for-17 and 89 yards.
Despite the loss, Villanova football showed great promise for what may come this season. The team put together a great performance that just didn’t go their way. They should be very successful this year. They will look to avenge last year’s loss against the Fordham Rams, who they will be hosting on Saturday, September 6 at 3:30 p.m.