Sept. 2, 2017
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Senior running back Matt Gudzak (Toms River, N.J.) ran for a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns and first-year head coach Mark Ferrante won his debut as No. 10 Villanova (1-0) held on for a 38-35 victory against No. 17 Lehigh (0-1) in front of 5,816 at Goodman Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Despite never trailing in the game, the Wildcats saw what had been a 14-point lead on three separate occasions cut down to the three-point final margin after the Mountain Hawks scored with 4:43 left to play.
"I am really proud of the team and it feels good to get my first head coaching win," Ferrante said. "There were a lot of big plays on both sides of the ball. We had a little adversity on some of the tipped passes that they got and the long play, but we kept persevering and hanging in there and we were able to finish the game at the end."
Villanova set the tone early for a game that featured a combined 73 points and 959 yards of offense. Junior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (Wallington, N.J.) threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Ryan Bell (Basking Ridge, N.J.) less than two minutes into the contest, while Bednarczyk and Gudzak each ran for touchdowns in the second quarter to help the Wildcats forge a 21-7 lead with 10:14 remaining in the first half.
Bednarczyk had 281 yards of total offense on the day, throwing for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing to go along with 72 rushing yards on nine carries. Gudzak amassed his 142 yards on just 12 carries and Villanova balanced its offense with 266 yards on the ground to go along with Bednarczyk's 209-yard passing effort. Senior wide receiver Taurus Phillips (Beacon, N.Y.) had 97 receiving yards on three catches and Bell finished the day with five receptions for 78 yards.
There were a combined 10 touchdowns in the game, but the difference in the final score came down to a 32-yard field goal by sophomore Drew Kresge (Douglassville, Pa.) in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. He also went 5-for-5 on extra points in his collegiate debut, and his first career field goal attempt put the Wildcats in front 38-28 with 14:15 left.
Neither team scored on their next possessions after the field goal, but Lehigh eventually went 79 yards on 11 plays to pull to within 38-35 on a three-yard touchdown reception by Gatlin Casey. Villanova started at its own 14-yard line with the game hanging in the balance and held the ball the rest of the way, with a key play being Bednarczyk's nine-yard scamper for a first down on 3rd-and-1 after the Mountain Hawks called their second timeout with 2:18 to play.
Senior safety Rob Rolle (Newfield, N.J.) returned a fumble recovery 63 yards with less than a minute to play before halftime and Gudzak rushed for a 33-yard touchdown on the very next play to send the Wildcats into the locker rooms with a 28-14 lead. Lehigh received to open the second half and scored to trim the margin to 28-21, but Bednarczyk then hit Phillips for a 75-yard touchdown to make the score 35-21 with 13:36 to play in the third quarter.
FIRSTS FOR FERRANTE
Ferrante made his head coaching debut after spending the last 30 years as a Wildcats assistant coach, including the past 18 as assistant head coach. Ferrante is the 30th head coach in the 120-year history of the Villanova program, and the 38 points scored today are the most the team has ever scored in a head-coaching debut. Ferrante is the 13th head coach to win his debut.
NUMBERS OF NOTE
Offense: Gudzak tallied his third career 100-yard rushing game and scored two touchdowns in a game for the first time. Bednarczyk tied a career long pass with his 75-yard touchdown strike to Phillips in the third quarter. This is the fifth time in his career Bednarczyk has had at least one rushing touchdown and passing touchdown in a game. The 75-yard reception was a career-long catch for Phillips.
Defense: Senior linebacker Ed Shockley (Millville, N.J.) and senior cornerback Malik Reaves (Jacksonville, Fla.) each reached double digits in tackles. Shockley had a career-high 14 stops in recording his fourth career game in double figures, while Reaves had 11 tackles to notch his second career game with at least 10 stops. The 63-yard fumble return by Rolle is the longest such return by a Villanova player since at least 1998.
Team: Villanova improved to 48-42 (.533) all-time in matchups where both the Wildcats and their opponent are nationally ranked. Villanova is 76-39 (.661) overall since the start of the 2008 season, and is now 31-3 since 2011 when scoring at least 30 points in a game. Today's game kicked off the 120th season of Wildcats football. Villanova is 58-59-3 in season openers, including 24-25-2 on the road. This is the sixth straight win in the series against Lehigh, which the Wildcats lead 9-5.
Villanova takes on Temple next week in the first meeting between the teams since the 2012 season. This is the 13th straight year that the Wildcats are playing an FBS opponent. This marks the first season in that stretch that the FBS game is not Villanova' season opener.