VILLANOVA, Pa. - A late comeback bid came up just short in a battle between two highly-ranked opponents and No. 13 Villanova (4-4, 2-3 CAA Football) came out on the short end of a 19-14 score against No. 10 Elon (7-1, 5-0) in a Homecoming Weekend game at Villanova Stadium on Saturday afternoon. True freshman quarterback Kyle McCloskey (Fort Washington, Pa.) made his first collegiate start and had 202 yards of total offense while playing turnover-free football for the game.
The turning point in the game came with the Wildcats down 19-14 after the Phoenix made a field goal with 4:45 remaining. Redshirt freshman Nowoola Awopetu (Staten Island, N.Y.), a defensive back who was returning kicks for the first time this season, ran the ensuing kickoff back 65 yards to give Villanova field position at Elon's 35-yard line with 4:34 to play. A holding penalty against the Wildcats set up a 1st-and-20 play from the 45-yard line, and McCloskey looked deep to sophomore receiver Zac Kerxton (Haymarket, Va.) who initially caught the ball inside the 20-yard line.
After making the catch, Kerxton appeared to have been stripped of the ball before he was down and the play was ruled an interception with the Phoenix gaining possession. Upon replay review, the pass was ruled incomplete and Villanova had 2nd-and-20 with the ball still in its hands. McCloskey then rushed for 12 yards but the drive stalled at the 33-yard line before Elon took over on downs and ran out the final 3:13 on the clock.
McCloskey finished the game 9-of-20 through the air for 137 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the Wildcats with 65 rushing yards on 19 carries. He threw touchdown passes to junior running back Aaron Forbes (Newburgh, N.Y.) in the first quarter and senior wide receiver Taurus Phillips (Beacon, N.Y.) in the third period.
The latter touchdown pass to Phillips came with 55 seconds left in the third quarter and gave Villanova a 14-10 lead in a back-and-forth contest. There were three lead changes in all in the game, with the final one coming when the Phoenix scored a touchdown with 10:51 left in the fourth quarter to go in front 16-14. A missed extra point left the door open for the Wildcats, who went three-and-out on their next possession before punting the ball away.
Forbes had 143 all-purpose yards for the day and set new career highs in receiving with five receptions for 74 yards. He caught a 42-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 to play in the opening period to give Villanova a 7-0 lead. Forbes also ran for 40 yards on 11 carries and had a 29-yard kickoff return to open the game. Phillips caught two passes for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown reception, while sophomore tight end Simon Bingelis (Brick, N.J.) also had two receptions.
Elon tied the game at 7-7 on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Davis Cheek to De'Sean McNair with 10:46 left in the second period, and the game was tied 7-7 at halftime. Owen Johnson made a 25-yard field goal with 3:54 left in the third quarter to put the Phoenix ahead for the first time at 10-7.
Senior safety Rasaan Stewart (Collegeville, Pa.) and junior linebacker Jeff Steeb (Sweetwater, N.J.) each had a game-high 11 tackles. Senior linebacker Ed Shockley (Millville, N.J.) and freshman defensive end Malik Fisher (New York, N.Y.) each recorded a sack, while senior cornerback Trey Johnson (Lutz, Fla.) and sophomore Dage Davis (Waldorf, Md.) had interceptions.
Awopetu wound up with two kickoff returns for 97 total yards and senior punter John Hinchen (Saddle River, N.J.) averaged 45.9 yards on seven punts. He had two punts over 50 yards and surpassed 300 total punting yards for the second straight game.
Although the Wildcats were playing at home for only the third time this season, Saturday's game began a stretch of three home games in the next four weeks. Villanova will be back at home next Saturday afternoon for a 1 p.m. kickoff against Richmond (4-4, 2-3).