Nov. 5, 2011
AMHERST, Mass. - Led by three interceptions from senior cornerback Jimmy Pitts (Montclair, N.J.) and two recovered fumbles by sophomore cornerback Craig James (Mays Landing, N.J.), an incredible all-around effort by Villanova (2-8, 1-6 CAA) sent the Wildcats to an uplifting 35-17 victory over Massachusetts (5-4) on Saturday afternoon.
Villanova turned six turnovers by the Minutemen into 28 points and registered their first win at McGuirk Stadium in more than 30 years. The site was previously the only venue in CAA Football that Wildcats head coach Andy Talley had yet to win at and he led an opportunistic young team to his first victory in eight tries in Amherst.
The game turned quickly in the second quarter when three turnovers by Massachusetts in the span of just four minutes had Villanova on its way to scoring 28 points in the period en route to a 28-10 lead at halftime. Prior to the four-touchdown outburst in the quarter the Wildcats had scored more than 28 points in a game just once all season.
Big plays from the defense prevented the Minutemen from ever finding an offensive rhythm and the turnovers put Villanova in terrific field position offensively time after time. Seven of the 14 possessions for the Wildcats in the game started inside Massachusetts territory and the efforts of the offense and special teams matched the Villanova defense in the team's most complete game of the season.
"This is the kind of day that we have been looking for all year," Talley said. "We have been trying to put together a strong effort from our offense, defense and special teams in one game and we had that today. We didn't turn the ball over except for once and we had a good defensive package which allowed us to take advantage of the other team's turnovers."
Turnovers on consecutive offensive plays by the Minutemen in the second quarter got the ball rolling for the Wildcats, who converted each of those first two turnovers into touchdowns and took a 14-3 lead with 9:23 left in the opening half. Massachusetts never recovered from the momentum gained by Villanova on those first two scores.
Freshman quarterback Chris Polony (Whitehall, Pa.) threw three touchdown passes for the second straight game and redshirt freshman running back Austin Medley (Franklinville, N.J.) had both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown to lead the team's offensive effort. Freshman running back Jamal Abdur-Rahman (Philadelphia, Pa.) had equal totals of 62 yards both running and receiving, including a 30-yard reception for a touchdown.
Early in the second quarter junior linebacker Devon Bridges (Upper Marlboro, Md.) forced a fumble which James picked up at the Minutemen 13-yard line and four plays later a three-yard pass from Polony to Medley got the Wildcats on the board with a 7-3 advantage.
On the ensuring Massachusetts possession Pitts picked off a pass near midfield on the very first play from scrimmage and it took just three plays before Polony found Abdur-Rahman for a 30-yard run-and-catch scoring play.
Pitts struck again just three plays later, registering his second interception of the game in nearly the same exact spot as the first. This time the Villanova possession led to a two-yard touchdown run by Medley and the Wildcats pushed their lead to 21-3 with 4:37 left before halftime.
It looked like the Minutemen might gain some momentum back going into the intermission after a nine-play scoring drive trimmed the gap to 21-10 with 1:25 left before the break. Villanova still wasn't done, though, and once again got the ball in excellent field position after a personal foul against Massachusetts pushed the kickoff back to the 15-yard line.
Abdur-Rahman returned that kickoff 19 yards to the Wildcats 48-yard line and smart plays by the offense allowed for seven plays in just over a minute, culminating with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Polony to junior wide receiver Dorian Wells (West Covina, Calif.) with just 14 seconds left in the period. Polony finished the day 20-of-31 through the air for 183 yards and the three touchdown passes.
In the third quarter the Minutemen scored first to get within 28-17 but just past the midpoint of the period a 17-yard run by Massachusetts abruptly ended when freshman free safety Joe Sarnese (Ventnor, N.J.) knocked the ball loose and James recovered.
Villanova did not score on its resulting possession but turned the ball over on downs at the Minutemen 12-yard line. Five plays later the third lost fumble of the game by Massachusetts was picked up by junior defensive end Marlon Johnson (Baltimore, Md.) and senior running back Lawrence Doss (Bellflower, Calif.) eventually ran in for a seven-yard touchdown to close the scoring.
James finished the day with a career-high 12 tackles to go along with his two fumble recoveries, while junior safety Ronnie Akins (Lansdale, Pa.) had a team-best and career-high 13 tackles. The defense also tallied three sacks and a total of seven tackles for loss in addition to forcing six turnovers.
Massachusetts quarterback Brandon Hill was 27-of-45 for 300 yards and a touchdown, with Julian Talley catching 11 passes for 155 yards and a score. Jonathan Hernandez ran 20 times for 99 yards.
Because the Minutemen are in the process of moving up to the FBS level they are ineligible for postseason play and their games this season against CAA Football opponents do not count on the Massachusetts schedule as league games. Villanova, meanwhile, is in the midst of its first losing since 2005 with a young team that has regularly played as many as 17 freshmen. Still, there was never a question that both teams had much to play for.
"It has been baptism by fire for our young kids this season but today they became Wildcats," Talley said. "Massachusetts is a really good football team; our kids are so young that they probably don't realize how good that team is. This is exactly what we are trying to do, finish strong today against UMass and in two weeks in our final game against Delaware."
Villanova has a late bye week coming up before it returns to action to host Delaware on Saturday, November 19 at PPL Park.