Despite a great defensive effort, the Villanova Wildcats’ offense was unable to find the end zone on Senior Day at Villanova Stadium.
On a brisk day at Villanova, the Villanova offense was just as cold as the temperatures outside. The passing game was inefficient, as quarterback Zach Bednarczyk was 12-of-30 for 71 passing yards on the day. The James Madison defense was able to make some key stops and turnovers to cause havoc against Villanova’s dynamic attack. The Duke defense forced four interceptions, including the game-clinching turnover with under four minutes left in the game by Martez Stone to seal the 20-7 win.
“To get an interception in a game like this, I will never forget this moment,” said Stone of the play. “To make a play like that for us, and to overcome all these obstacles that we faced during the game and to get the win, it’s no better feeling.”
The Dukes overcame adversity early in the game, when starting quarterback Bryan Schor left the game early in the first half. Schor led the Dukes to a touchdown on the opening drive of the game taking 13 plays before Dukes’ running back Khalid Abdullah reached the end zone. Then, due to what is believed to be a head injury, sophomore Cole Johnson came in for Schor and was able to manage the game for the Dukes’ offense.
“I prepared for this,” said Johnson. “I was kind of ready for it. I didn’t think it was going to happen today, but you’re always ready for that.”
After James Madison scored on its opening drive, Villanova would respond with a 56-yard run by Bednarczyk to tie the score at seven midway through the second quarter.
Unfortunately, that would be the only points Villanova would see for the day. After heading into halftime tied at 7 apiece, Villanova had the first possession of the third quarter. With a 16-play, 55-yard drive to the James Madison 11 yard line, the Dukes were able to block Gerard Smith’s 29-yard field goal attempt that would have given the ‘Cats their first lead of the game. Plays like these were momentum killers for Villanova, and were one of the many reasons why the ‘Cats were unable to pull off the victory. While the Villanova ground game was established, the three-headed monster of Villanova’s running back trio could only gain yards in between the 20-yard lines.
“It was very frustrating,” running back Aaron Forbes said of the Villanova run game. “Their defense is very athletic. They run to the ball very well and we just had to keep tapping at the rock. We tried, but they just happened to come out on top today.”
However, the defense got the seal of approval from Villanova head coach Andy Talley.
“Well I thought we played well on defense,”said Talley, who coached his last regular season game at Villanova Stadium. “We had the kind of defensive effort we needed to win the game, and we got that kind of effort.”
After letting up the first touchdown of the game, the defense was able to force two interceptions in the second quarter and hold the Dukes to a field goal in each of the third and fourth quarters.
“We did not play well on the offensive side of the ball and it kind of blew a tremendous defensive effort away, which is what you need to beat a team that averages 50 points a game,” Talley said.
After Bednarczyk threw his third interception of the game to Stone, Abdullah scored his second touchdown of the game making the score 20-7 with 1:13 remaining in the game. Abdullah would finish with 101 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
While Wildcat fans wonder if this was the last time they would see their beloved tenured coach at Villanova Stadium, their focus is on next week’s game at Delaware. A victory against the Blue Hens could keep the Wildcats’ playoff hopes alive.
“I try not to think too much about it,” Talley said. “I was trying to pull this upset off and getting it done being a 9-2 team going to the playoffs, but now we have to lower our goal a little bit and go down to Delaware and try to see if we can win down there.”
While it may be hard to regroup after a tough loss today, senior linebacker and captain Austin Calitro has confidence in his entire team.
“It’s not easy, but we have to do it,” he said. “I told the team after in the huddle that we need to focus on next week. Our goal coming into the season was to win the CAA and make the playoffs. Unfortunately we didn’t get our first goal, but our second goal is very attainable.”
Talley is focused as well, calling on his team to put the loss behind them.
“We need to throw this thing out the window, we can’t dwell on it,” Talley said. “We didn’t win, but we’ve gone to Delaware before having to win that game to go to the playoffs.”