by Brett Klein
The Wildcats charged into Franklin Field on Saturday afternoon with just about everything in their favor, including a rich history of victory against Penn.
As if the ’Cats needed any more confidence coming off of two convincing wins over Fordham and Rhode Island the past two weeks, the team could find solace in the fact that Villanova had beaten Penn in every one of its last 11 meetings and has never lost to an Ivy League opponent.
Saturday’s contest was no different, as every aspect of the Wildcats’ balanced attack looked exceptionally sharp during the team’s 24-8 triumph. In addition to their stellar defense, the ’Cats eclipsed 200 rushing yards for the fourth time this season and added a potent aerial attack for which Penn had no answer.
Redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson spearheaded the offensive outburst, completing 65 percent of his passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, while also dashing for 55 more yards and a score on eight carries.
To put the success of the ’Cats’ passing game in perspective, this was the first time in 16 games that the team had amassed 200 yards through the air.
Robertson displayed his impressive running abilities on a 26-yard touchdown run with just under six minutes to play in the third, which ballooned the ’Cats’ lead to 17-0. Robertson’s remarkable performance against the Quakers came on the heels of his second straight week being named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Week.
“John Robertson just had a heck of a day,” Head Coach Andy Talley said. “He threw very well and hit some receivers in stride. He is what you want as a quarterback.”
The bulk of Robertson’s pinpoint passes found their targets in the first half, as he continuously hit junior wide receiver Joe Price, who had a breakout game, and senior wide receiver Norman White for huge gains.
After sophomore kicker Connor Loftus shanked a 43-yard field goal wide on Penn’s opening drive, Robertson went to work in a hurry, leading the Wildcats swiftly down the field and finishing off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown strike to White for the game’s first score.
On that scoring drive, Robertson repeatedly hit Price for huge gains. Price had totaled only 52 receiving yards over the first three games, but finished this game alone with a career-high 113 yards receiving on five grabs.
“It was critical for Joe [Price] to play well for us,” Talley said. “It took some pressure off of Norman White who is hurt a little bit.”
The ’Cats pushed their lead to a modest 10 points before the half on a 41-yard field goal from junior kicker Mark Hamilton. The first half ended with Penn having failed to muster a single point, which extended the Villanova defense’s impressive streak of holding its opponent scoreless to four consecutive quarters, dating back to the second quarter of its Sept. 15 contest against Rhode Island.
The defense was able to put constant pressure on the Penn quarterbacks, seniors Billy Ragone and Andrew Holland, and was able to rack up four crushing sacks, two by junior defensive lineman Rakim Cox.
The ’Cats’ stingy defense limited the Quakers to an average of just 5.0 yards per play, as opposed to 7.6 for the ’Nova offense. The team’s defense has been steadily improving as the season has progressed, something that has not surprised Talley.
“We knew we would have a good defense this year because we have starters back,” Talley said. “I think we just needed to gel.”
The Wildcats’ passing game began to slow down in the second half and the team began to rely heavily on two-thirds of its patented three-headed monster rushing attack. The third head, if you will, sophomore running back Austin Medley, was sidelined for Saturday’s game with an injury, leaving the majority of the running duties to Robertson and fellow sophomore running back Kevin Monangai.
“Austin [Medley] being out didn’t change my mindset going into the game,” Monangai said. “But it did make me and the other running backs realize how much harder we had to work to accomplish what we did.”
Monangai exploded as the featured back, sprinting for 109 yards and a 14-yard touchdown run, which catapulted the ’Cats ahead 24-0, on just 17 carries.
“As the game went on, the offensive line just kept working,” Monangai said. “And eventually lanes opened up for me to hit big runs.”
The Quakers were able to avoid the shutout with a five-yard touchdown from Holland to junior wide receiver Conner Scott and subsequently tacked on the two-point conversion. The game, however, was dominated by the Wildcats.
Now 3-1, the ’Cats will put their three-game winning streak on the line as they head north to face the Maine on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.