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Wildcats Rally Past William & Mary Into National Championship Game

Dec. 11, 2009

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VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Junior wide receiver Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) ignited the offense with a 62-yard touchdown run and executed a fake punt that eventually led to a one-yard quarterback sneak by junior quarterback Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa.), as No. 2 seed Villanova (13-1) advanced to the title game of the Division I Football Championship with a 14-13, come-from-behind victory over William & Mary (11-3) on Friday night at Villanova Stadium. The Wildcats scored touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to rally for the win, which set a new program record for single-season victories (13).

Villanova's offense stagnated for much of the game against the nation's top rushing defense, but Szczur changed that with a big run at the 9:03 mark of the third quarter for the Wildcats first points of the game. The score trimmed a 10-point deficit down to 10-7 and got the ball rolling for Villanova through the rest of the game. Whitney's one-yard run at the 10:57 mark of the fourth quarter gave the Wildcats their first and only lead of the game.

After a 40-yard field goal by Tribe kicker Brian Pate made the score 13-7 in favor of William & Mary at the 2:13 mark of the third period, the Wildcats started their next drive from the Tribe's 48-yard line following a 31-yard kickoff return by Szczur. On 4th-and-8 from the 46-yard line near the end of the quarter, Szczur executed a fake punt for a nine-yard rush and a Villanova first down at the Tribe 37. A review of the play by the instant replay booth confirmed Szczur's spot.

On the same drive early in the fourth quarter, senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey (Spring Valley, Calif.) caught a 16-yard pass on 3rd-and-7 from the William & Mary 22-yard line. He was initially ruled out of bounds at the six-yard line and the pass an incompletion, but the call was overturned based on an official review in the booth.

A number of plays literally came down to inches or less in deciding the game. On 2nd-and-goal from the eight-yard line, junior running back Aaron Ball (Los Angeles, Calif.) carried for seven yards just past the one-yard line. A third official review revealed that he had not gotten into the end zone. Whitney was then stuffed on 3rd-and-1 before sneaking in on the right side on fourth down for a 14-13 lead and the eventual game-winning touchdown.

The Wildcats turned the game around with their backs up against the wall due to a 10-0 halftime deficit against a William & Mary team that entered the game giving up fewer than 12 points per game to its opponents. Villanova possessed the ball for just 9:14 in the first half and managed only 70 yards of total offense, including just 25 yards on the ground. In the second half, the Wildcats held the ball for 17:32, including nearly the entire fourth quarter (12:58). Villanova wound up gaining 168 yards on the ground and had 267 yards of total offense.

Szczur ran for 92 yards on eight carries and Whitney picked up 37 net yards (62 gained, 25 lost) on 17 rushes. Through the air, he was held to 7-of-20 accuracy for 98 yards. Harvey caught a team-high three passes for 65 yards on the night.

Following a scoreless first quarter, the Tribe got on the board with a 98-yard touchdown pass from R.J. Archer to Cameron Dohse. Archer completed a pass near the sideline that Dohse reeled in while still in William & Mary territory. He evaded a defender in a 1-on-1 situation and raced downfield for the long touchdown at the 10:45 mark of the period. Pate drilled a career-best 46-yard touchdown as time expired in the half to make the score 10-0.

Archer was 21-of-31 for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the game, with Dohse making five catches for 148 yards. D.J. McAulay had seven receptions for 49 yards, while running back Jonathan Grimes picked up 59 yards on 22 carries.

Villanova received a big lift from sophomore punter Dominic Scarnecchia (Youngstown, Ohio), who placed six of his eight punts inside the Tribe 20-yard line with his unusual rugby-style punting. Scarnecchia averaged 37.6 yards on his eight punts.

On the defensive end, junior defensive back Fred Maldonado (West Chester, Pa.) and junior linebacker Terence Thomas (Lawrenceville, N.J.) had seven tackles each to lead four Wildcats with at least six total stops. In addition, junior safety John Dempsey (Secane, Pa.) had a 17-yard interception return.

Top-seeded Montana takes on Appalachian State in the second semifinal game on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN. The winner advances to meet the Wildcats next Friday evening at 8 p.m. in an ESPN2 broadcast of the national championship game.