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VILLANOVA, Pa. - Following a pair of road games to begin the 2017 season, No. 7 Villanova (1-1) debuts in front of its home fans on Saturday night when it hosts Lafayette (0-2) presented by Rothman Institute for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Villanova Stadium. It will be the first chance for Wildcats fans to see a number of new stadium features that will greatly enhance the game day experience. The game also marks first-ever visit to the Main Line for the Leopards, who Villanova will be playing for the second straight year but also for just the sixth time since the first meeting nearly 120 years ago.
Saturday's game is one of the central events that makes up a busy Family Weekend schedule on campus. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the Villanova Ticket Office at 610-519-4100. The game can be seen live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app, and the radio broadcast with Ryan Fannon and Kevin Reilly can be hard both on the airwaves at 610 Sports WTEL-AM and online at villanova.com. Villanova has won five straight home openers and is 37-12 overall at home since the 2009 season. The program has an all-time .704 winning percentage at its on-campus home.
Although kickoff is at 6 p.m., there will be plenty for fans to look forward to prior to the start of the game. Don't miss the "Wildcat Walk" which will take place approximately 2.5 hours prior to kickoff. The band, cheerleaders, dance team and twirlers will lead the team through the A-2 parking lot on the way to their locker room in the Andrew J. Talley Athletic Center. Also new this year is the Fan Fest in the west end zone, which will be open from 4:30 p.m. until the end of the third quarter. Located on field level just outside the entrance to the Talley Athletic Center, the fan fest will have Yuengling beer selections, wine and food available for purchase. In addition, the Kids Zone on the south side of the stadium near the Jumbo Elliott statue is open from 4:30 p.m. until the end of the first half.
Villanova has looked good in its first two games, which include a 38-35 win over then-No. 17 Lehigh and a 16-13 loss to FBS member Temple. The team's dominant defense has picked up where it left off last season, as the Wildcats have given up a total of just 157 rushing yards in the first two games. In addition, the 16 points given up to Temple are the fewest Villanova has ever allowed to an FBS foe and marked the fifth straight year that the Wildcats have limited their FBS opponent to fewer than 30 points.
Senior linebacker Ed Shockley (Millville, N.J.) has led a particularly strong corps of Villanova linebackers. He leads the team with 18 tackles through the first two games, with 12 of his stops coming against the run. Junior Jeff Steeb (Sweetwater, N.J.) and sophomore Drew Wiley (Pennington, N.J.) are the Wildcats other starting linebackers, and they have combined for 22 tackles in the first two games. Also standing out so far this season are senior cornerback Malik Reaves (Jacksonville, Fla.) and senior safety Rob Rolle (Newfield, N.J.). Reaves had 11 total stops in the season opener at Lehigh, while Rolle had a 63-yard fumble return in the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, junior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (Wallington, N.J.) is coming off a career-high 382 passing yards against Temple last week. He also set career highs with 27 completions and 41 attempts in the game, and his 382 yards were the most by a Wildcats quarterback since Frank Jankowski threw for 385 yards at New Hampshire on October 1, 2005. Bednarczyk surpassed 4,000 career passing yards in his 23rd start last week.
Senior wide receiver Taurus Phillips (Beacon, N.Y.) has a team-high 191 receiving yards on nine catches, including touchdown receptions of 75 yards against Lehigh and 10 yards versus Temple. Senior tight end Ryan Bell (Basking Ridge, N.J.) is off to a strong start with a team-best 11 receptions thus far, including a touchdown catch in the season opener. Villanova's running game has been led by senior Matt Gudzak (Toms River, N.J.), who had a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns at Lehigh. Gudzak and junior Aaron Forbes (Newburgh, N.Y.) form a potent one-two punch in the running game, while Bednarczyk is a dual threat under center who has eight career rushing touchdowns.
Another bright spot for the Wildcats in the early part of the season has been the work of sophomore kicker Drew Kresge (Douglassville, Pa.), who has made 3-of-4 field goals and all six of his extra points. He made a 32-yard field goal which wound up being the difference in a three-point win at Lehigh, then made field goals of 44 yards and 34 yards in the Temple game.
Lafayette comes into Saturday's game with an 0-2 record after losses to Monmouth (31-12) and Sacred Heart (38-24). Freshman quarterback Sean O'Malley became the first Leopards freshman to start under center in the season opener since Patriot League play began in 1986 when he made the start against Monmouth. In two games, O'Malley has thrown for 538 yards on 52-of-86 passing with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Five different defensive players have at least 10 tackles on the season, with senior linebacker Michael Root leading the way with 17 total stops.
In the first four gridiron meetings between Villanova and Lafayette -- played in Easton between 1898 and 1920, the Wildcats didn't manage so much as a touchdown. All four of those games were won by the Leopards in 1898 (16-0), 1899 (14-0), 1914 (14-3) and 1920 (34-0). The script was quickly changed last season at Fisher Stadium when Villanova tallied a 31-14 victory. Momentum swung to the Wildcats early on, as a Lafayette fumble on the game's first play from scrimmage resulted in a 25-yard return for a Villanova touchdown just 15 seconds into the contest.
Saturday's game is one of just two home dates on the Wildcats schedule in the first eight weeks of the season. Villanova will head back on the road for its next two games at Albany (September 23) and Towson (September 30) before returning home to face Maine on October 7. That contest will be followed by another road game and then the team's bye week.