Sept. 20, 2009
PHILADELPHIA, Pa.--Junior wide receiver Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) ran back the game's opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and No. 2 Villanova (3-0) then settled into a scrappy defensive battle against Penn (0-1) on Saturday night at Franklin Field, eventually coming away with a 14-3 victory. The win marked the first time since 2003 that the Wildcats have won their first three games to open a season.
Szczur fielded Trevor Charlston's 57-yard kickoff to start the night at the Villanova 13-yard line and brought it all the way back for his second career kickoff return touchdown - both have come on the first play of a game. Redshirt freshman kicker Nick Yako (Cleveland, Ohio) kicked the extra point and then launched a 64-yard kickoff that the Quakers were only able to return to their own 23-yard line.
The immediate tally of points for the Wildcats and the stark difference in the opening possessions for each team - Penn gained just eight yards while going three-and-out on their first drive - certainly was not a harbinger of things to come, however.
Villanova wound up having possession of the ball for less than five minutes in the entire first quarter and would not score again until late in the third period. In the interim, the Quakers got their only points of the game on a 22-yard field goal by Andrew Samson with 12:46 left in the second quarter. The kick ended a 14-play, 66-yard drive that lasted nearly seven minutes and was indicative of Penn's ability to hold the ball throughout the game. Both teams had 12 drives on the night but the Quakers owned an edge of nearly 11 minutes in possession time.
As a result, the Wildcats ran just 50 offensive plays for a total of 187 yards. The team had averaged 387 yards of offense per game in its first two contests of the season. Penn didn't do much better against Villanova's equally opportune defense, running 62 plays and picking up 239 yards. Both sides committed two turnovers.
In the second half, senior quarterback Antwon Young (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) threw a five-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey (Spring Valley, Calif.) with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter to expand the Wildcat lead and close the scoring for the night. This was the fourth straight year that the Quakers have not scored after halftime against Villanova.
Young needed only four carries to run for a game-high 36 yards in the defensive duel. His longest rush was a 24-yard run on 3rd-and-11 from the Wildcat 21-yard line on the play that culminated with Harvey's touchdown reception. Young also threw a 14-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Norman White (Hammonton, N.J.) on the drive, which covered 10 plays and 78 yards in 3:47.
Villanova gained 128 yards on the ground as Young and Szczur shared carries with junior running backs Aaron Ball (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Angelo Babbaro (Canfield, Ohio). Young and junior quarterback Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa.) each completed 3-of-7 passes on a night when the Wildcats totaled just 59 yards in the air. Whitney also threw the team's first interception of the season and lost a fumble.
Although its offense matches up with anyone in the country on just about any night, the Villanova defense matched Penn play-for-play in a typically stalwart game between the local rivals. The Wildcats sacked quarterback Keiffer Garton six times and accumulated 10 total tackles for loss. Senior defensive back Ross Ventrone (Pittsburgh, Pa.) picked off his second interception of the season and junior linebacker Terence Thomas (Lawrenceville, N.J.) set a career-high with 10 tackles and two sacks. Senior defensive end Tim Kukucka (Wall, N.J.) and junior Mario Johnson (San Francisco, Calif.) had two and 1.5 sacks, respectively.
Garton threw for 185 yards with one interception on 19-of-27 accuracy for the Quakers, who generated nearly all their offense through the air. Mike DiMaggio carried the ball 12 times for Penn and his 27 rushing yards were half of the team's total.
Villanova opens conference play next Saturday at home with its first CAA matchup of the season. The Wildcats play host to Northeastern at 3:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised live on the Comcast Network (formerly CN8).