On Villanova’s final possession of the first half in the first-round playoff game vs. Saint Francis University, its one and only play happened to be a kneel down to send the game into halftime. It seemed that almost every other Villanova offensive play before that knocked Red Flash’s defense onto its knees in submission.
Moving the ball at will, the Wildcats scored on each of its first five drives of the ball game, including scoring touchdowns on four consecutive drives between the first and second quarters, to cruise to a 31-21 victory to advance to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Villanova advances to take on No. 8 South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. in the next round.
In the postgame press conference, long-time head coach Andy Talley, who is coaching in his final season after 32 years with the school, turned to his players and mentioned that his team is a group of “dangerous animals,” almost suggesting that his team has a quiet confidence about its ability and how far his team can go. There certainly was no shortage of confidence in the Wildcats offense going up against an overmatched defense of the Red Flash, champions of the Northeast Conference.
Of the four touchdown drives that proved to be all of the touchdowns the Wildcats would score today, three of them went 75 yards or more. After the Wildcats’ first drive ended in a field goal, sophomore quarterback Zach Bednarczyk took control of the rest of the first half, using zone read plays to gain chunks of yards on the ground as well as the short passing game, allowing his receivers to gain yards after the catch. His 59-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Bell to give Villanova a 17-7 lead late in the first quarter didn’t travel more than five yards in the air, but wonderful blocking by the pulling offensive lineman and receivers downfield allowed the tight end to rumble into the end zone.
In a near flawless first half, Bednarczyk completed 10 of 11 passes for 189 yards a three touchdown passes, while also rushing for 46 yards on seven attempts Almost as important, he sustained drives with third-down conversions, allowing the Wildcats to possess the ball for almost two-thirds of the game (37:35).
While the offense took control of the game, Villanova’s defense did a number on the Saint Francis running game, holding the Red Flash to only 27 rushing yards on 22 attempts in the contest, forcing the Red Flash to be one-dimensional for the little amount of time they possessed the football. Passing the ball proved to hazardous as well for the Red Flash, as the Wildcats’ defense recorded six sacks of quarterback Zack Drayer. Kamron Lewis, who came into the game leading the FCS in receiving yards with 1,349, caught a 74-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline from Drayer in the first quarter to cut Villanova’s lead to 10-7, but that was Saint Francis’ only points until the fourth quarter. Lewis finished the day with 129 yards on six catches.
The win sends the Wildcats to the Mount Rushmore State, where they’ll take on No. 8 South Dakota State in the second round of the playoffs. Coach Talley, in his 32 years coaching at Villanova, mentioned that he had never been to South Dakota during his long coaching tenure. The Jackrabbits handed top-seed and five-time defending national champion North Dakota State its only loss of the season in Fargo, N.D. on Oct. 15.
[Cover photo (Aaron Forbes, 25, plus other Wildcats) courtesy of David Maialetti/Philly.com]