The underdog Wildcats did all they could to save their slim playoff hopes. In a contest that seemed much closer than the score suggested, Villanova fell to the James Madison Dukes, 38-29.
Coach Andy Talley and crew knew that they would have to play a near perfect game to have any shot against the number 12 team in the nation. Being an undermanned squad and heading into hostile territory, this is a tough task to ask for any team. The task got even harder however, when before everyone could settle into their seats, the Dukes took the opening kickoff to the house for an early 7-0 lead.
Knowing that Villanova’s game plan would be to slow down the imposing JMU offense, contributions from any other facet of the game would only be icing on the proverbial cake for James Madison.
Villanova would not be deterred by the bad start, as they went straight down field and scored on a 32-yard touchdown scamper by senior running back Gary Underwood. The drive took only two minutes and foreshadowed the close contest that would develop in the heartland of Virginia.
After being a much maligned group throughout the year, the Villanova defense showed great resiliency in the first half against the top offense in the FCS. The defense forced five punts in the half as well as a turnover on downs.
The great defensive play kept Villanova in the game in the first half, despite the poor first half mistake of quarterback Zach Bednarczyk. The redshirt freshman threw a pick six to Jordan Brown, who returned it 45 yards for the score.
The Dukes would add a late touchdown and go into the half leading 21-7, as Bryan Schor connected with Dominique Taylor for 41 yards.
In a must win half to save the season, Bednarcyzk led the offense 90 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to seven. In a bit of trickery, Talley called on linebacker Don Cherry to punch the ball in over the goal line. Cherry was able to fulfill the role that William “The Fridge” Perry made famous with the one yard score.
The ‘Nova defense continued to build upon its strong first half performance by surrendering just a field goal on the ensuing drive.
Villanova would take advantage of holding the Dukes to just three points as they scored shortly after to cut the lead to three.
If anyone is keeping track at home, Villanova’s offense had outscored the Dukes’ offense 14-10 at this point in the game. A scenario, that Coach Talley and every Wildcats fan would take going to this game.
After sustaining an elongated drive, JMU would roll the dice on a fourth down in Wildcats territory to put the game away. However, the Villanova defense stood tall yet again to get the ‘Cats the ball back on the turnover on downs.
Despite the great stop by the defense, the offense could not capitalize. Villanova would bring the ball into Dukes territory with an opportunity to at least tie the game, but would be denied as Bednarcyzk fumbled on a ten yard dash. The fumble was recovered by Taylor Reynolds who threw the dagger when he took it to the house for six.
Both teams would exchange scores late in the fourth quarter. The game and Villanova’s season would end 38-29.
Bednarczyk had a rough day in the air throwing for 132 on 14 completions. He was also intercepted twice on the day, with one going back for a touchdown. The quarterback had a much better day, however, on the ground running for two scores and 157 yards. In what might be his final game of his career, Underwood finished with 90 yards on the ground including the opening Villanova touchdown.
With all the hub bub surrounding JMU offense, they struggled mightily against the gritty Villanova defense. As a team they “only” put up 17 points and 323 yards, much less than their season averages in both departments. One of the standouts for the Dukes included quarterback Schor who threw for 171 yards and two touchdowns. The run game was held in check, on a relative scale, with the two headed monster of Kahlid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson being held under a combined 100 yards.
James Madison won the game with special teams and defense with the units combining to contribute 21 points on the day.
The Wildcats finish the regular season at 6-5.