Villanova’s fast start in the first half proved to be the difference in their 31-21 first round playoff victory against Saint Francis last Saturday at Villanova Stadium. The Wildcats had 31-7 lead at halftime, scoring three touchdowns in eight minutes to jump out in front.
Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk helped balance the offense by throwing for 254 yards and three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 59 yard pass to tight end Ryan Bell and a 53 yard pass to receiver Jarrett McClenton.
Bell finished with a career high 110 yards for the day. All in all, he and McClenton combined for 175 of Villanova’s 254 receiving yards and three touchdowns. While they got it going through the air, Villanova was also to thrive on the ground, totaling 241 yards thanks in large part to the three headed monster of Aaron Forbes, Matt Gudzak, and Javon White. Gudzak was able to contribute in the running and passing attack as he had a career high in total yards with 117 (62 running and 55 receiving).
On the defensive side of the ball, the No. 3 ranked defense in the FCS was able to get after Saint Francis quarterback Zach Drayer, as the Wildcats finished with six sacks. CAA Defensive Player of the Year Tanoh Kpassagnon and senior Brian Osei accounted for 4.5 of the six sacks. In addition to interceptions by defensive backs Rob Rolle and Jason Ceneus, the Wildcats were able to display their defensive talent by allowing 264 total yards, and only 27 on the ground.
Overall, it was a great win for head coach Andy Talley, who coached his final game in Villanova stadium.
“We’re very happy to win a playoff game,” said Talley, who has coached the Wildcats for 32 years. “I think it was important that since we were coming off a high at Delaware that the way we played in the first half.”
As for his last game at Villanova stadium, he had some time to reflect.
“It’s been a great career. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Talley said. “So when you walk out of the stadium one last time, you kind of look back and reflect. Mark Ferrante will be our new coach. It’s 32 years of building the program and now handing it over to a quality coach who has been here as long as me and a great staff. I’m just really proud of everything we have built.”
The No. 9 Wildcats will have to put that win behind them, as they now have to travel to South Dakota and turn their attention to the No.8 South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Although the Jackrabbits are an 8-3 team, they have a powerful offensive attack averaging about 37 points a game. They are also the only team to defeat five-time defending national champion No. 1 ranked North Dakota State this season. They are led by sophomore quarterback Taryn Christion, who has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns this season.
“(Christion) is probably the best quarterback we have seen all year,” Talley said. “He’s difficult to put pressure on, because he’s got great feet and can run. The problem is that if you put pressure on him, he can take off and run and break you down. He’s a running threat that can really get down field, and he’s got a great arm.”
Similar to the Wildcats, South Dakota State likes to use multiple running backs. Three of their running backs have combined for almost 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns. Most of the ground work has been done by Brady Mengarelli, a junior who has 714 rushing yards this season.
On the outside, the Jackrabbits have two tall playmakers who can cause a threat to the Wildcat defense with two 6-4 juniors–tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Weineke. Both Goedert and Weineke are 1,000-yard receivers and have a combined 26 touchdowns between them.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jackrabbits are solid. They allow their opponents on average to score 28 points per game and have 26 sacks this season. While they are vulnerable to allow teams to score more than 30 points against them, they should not be overlooked as they only gave up 17 points to North Dakota State.
Additionally, Western Illinois and Youngstown State only scored 14 and 10 points against them respectively; both teams were ranked in the top 15 this season. The Jackrabbits are lead by two star linebackers, redshirt freshman Christian Rozeboom and senior Jesse Bobbit, who have combined for 202 total tackles this season.
Overall, the Wildcats know they have a tough task ahead of them if they want to advance to the FCS quarterfinals, where they might meet powerhouse North Dakota State.
“South Dakota State is a very, very impressive football team, when you take a look at the way they played against TCU (a 59-41 loss on the road) and their win against North Dakota State,” Talley said, earlier in the week. “They have signature wins in their program, and they’re certainly one of the elite teams in the country. They have Division I size across the front. They are an impressive team.”
Kickoff is set for this Saturday at 3 p.m. and will be broadcast onto ESPN3.