Oct. 14, 2017
HARRISONBURG, Va.--In its most difficult test to date of the 2017 season, No. 11 Villanova (4-3, 2-2 CAA Football) gave defending national champion and No. 1 James Madison (6-0, 3-0) its money worth in an eventual 30-8 loss in front of a crowd of 25,993 at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The game was featured earlier in the day on ESPN's weekly College Gameday show, which came to an FCS location for only the eighth time.
Despite being held off the scoreboard through the first three quarters of the game, the Wildcats scored a touchdown and were successful on a two-point conversion on the first play of the final period to make the score 16-8 with 14:56 remaining in the contest. Villanova also got the ball back twice with the score still within one possession before the Dukes sealed the outcome on an offensive touchdown with 7:02 to play and a pick-six with 1:57 remaining.
The defense which has been so strong for the Wildcats this season - particularly against the run - stood up to the challenge of facing a James Madison team that has won 18 straight games overall and 21 of its last 22 against FCS opponents. Villanova gave up just 45 rushing yards on 30 carries by the Dukes, who finished with 316 total yards. James Madison entered the game averaging 289.8 rushing yards and 517.4 total yards per game.
Junior linebacker Jeff Steeb (Sweetwater, N.J.) led the Wildcats with nine tackles and had the team's only two sacks in the game. Senior linebacker Ed Shockley (Millville, N.J.) added eight tackles - seven on rushing attempts - and freshman safety Jaquan Amos (Philadelphia, Pa.) had an interception in the fourth quarter which gave Villanova the ball down eight points with 11:05 to play. The defense as a whole forced the Dukes into three-and-out possessions four times during the game, including three times on five drives in the second half.
Trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Wildcats received the ball to open the second half but fumbled the ball away at their own 42-yard line less than two minutes into the third quarter. James Madison took over and was limited to a field goal with 10:09 to play in the period which made the score 16-0. The ensuing possession by Villanova was an 18-play, 79-yard marathon which led to the Wildcats only points of the game early in the fourth quarter. Villanova converted three times on third down and twice more on fourth down on its scoring drive, which culminated with freshman quarterback Kyle McCloskey (Fort Washington, Pa.) throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Todd Summers (Murrysville, Pa.) on 4th-and-1.
Earlier in the drive, McCloskey had separate runs of 10 yards and 12 yards on 3rd-and-4 plays, and also found sophomore wide receiver Brandon Chadbourn (Altoona, Pa.) for an 11-yard completion on 3rd-and-11. In the final minute of the third quarter, junior running back Aaron Forbes (Newburgh, N.Y.) rushed for two yards on 4th-and-1 from the Dukes 15-yard line and redshirt freshman Justin Covington (Bronx, N.Y.) followed with a six-yard run to bring the Wildcats down to the seven-yard line.
James Madison made field goals of 22 yards in the first quarter and 36 yards in the second quarter before stretching the margin to 13-0 on a touchdown with 3:03 remaining before the intermission. Villanova did a particularly good job of preventing long scoring drives by the Dukes, who entered the game with a 51 percent conversion rate on third down but went just 3-for-12 in the game. James Madison ran just 22 offensive plays in the second half, just eight of which came in the third quarter as the Wildcats gave themselves a chance to get back in the game.
Senior safety Rasaan Stewart (Collegeville, Pa.) and senior cornerback Trey Johnson (Lutz, Fla.) had six tackles apiece for Villanova, with Stewart continuing his strong recent play with 1.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore safety Julian Williams (Airmont, N.Y.) added both a forced fumble and a pass breakup in addition to having three total tackles.
After playing seven games in as many weeks to start the season, including five on the road, the Wildcats will get a well-deserved bye next weekend. Villanova will play three of its final four regular season games at home and will begin that stretch by hosting Elon on October 28 at 3:30 p.m.