by Frank Scicchitano
It was another successful afternoon for the football team this past Saturday at Villanova Stadium as it knocked off the No. 9-ranked James Madison Dukes by a score of 35-20.
Behind a strong performance from the team’s defensive unit, No. 23-ranked Villanova improved to 5-2 in the CAA and 7-3 overall. James Madison’s loss dropped them to 7-3 overall and 5-2 against CAA opponents.
Offensively, the ’Cats featured an unstoppable rushing attack that amassed 307 yards on 64 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt.
This was the fourth time this season that Villanova has eclipsed the 300-yard rushing mark as a team. It did so against a James Madison defense that had previously held two different opponents to 19 total rushing yards this season. The Dukes came into the game leading the CAA in run defense.
Sophomore running back Kevin Monangai led the outstanding ’Nova ground attack with 150 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. This was Monangai’s fourth straight 100-yard game and he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, becoming just the fourth player in ’Nova football history to accomplish such a feat.
“Reaching a milestone like this just serves as a reminder to me that no matter what you want to achieve in life, you can get it if you work hard enough,” Monangai said. “I’d attribute our success on the ground this season [to] the very people that made this milestone achievable, my extremely hard-working offensive line and tight ends.”
Villanova started the game by forcing JMU’s offense to go three-and-out and then taking the ball straight down the field, capping a 74-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson.
The Wildcats’ aerial attack struck in the second quarter when Robertson found junior wide receiver Joe Price for a huge 68-yard gain. The big play set up a 22-yard field goal for Mark Hamilton as the ’Cats took a 10-0 lead.
Sophomore safety Joe Sarnese created the game’s first turnover when he intercepted a JMU pass on the ensuing possession. Sarnese had eight tackles to go along with that interception and now leads the team with four picks on the season.
The Wildcats capitalized on the Sarnese interception by marching down the field and scoring on a 20-yard pass from Robertson to senior wide receiver Dorian Wells. Robertson would finish an efficient day, completing 8-of-14 pass attempts for 141 yards and one touchdown. The ’Cats also carried the ball 21 times for 61 yards and two more scores.
“John has improved his passing and has a better feel for the application of the offense,” said Head Coach Andy Talley of his redshirt freshman quarterback. “He also has grown up very quickly as a leader.”
In the third quarter, JMU finally cut into the Wildcat lead after recovering a Robertson fumble on the Villanova 17 yard-line. Dukes quarterback Justin Thorpe capitalized on the turnover with a one-yard touchdown run to make the score 17-7.
Austin Medley and the Wildcat offense took the momentum back quickly. He broke off a 35-yard run that put ’Nova in scoring position and Robertson finished the scoring drive with his second touchdown run of the game, this one from one yard out.
Later in the third quarter, the Dukes found themselves pinned on their own one-yard line after an excellent Villanova punt.
Sophomore linebacker Joey Harmon and redshirt freshman safety Matt McCann sacked JMU quarterback Justin Thorpe in the end-zone for a safety that gave the Wildcats a 26-7 lead. Harmon had a huge day that included six tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Villanova got the ball back on the punt immediately following the safety.
Sophomore Chris Polony replaced Robertson at quarterback, but the offense didn’t miss a beat as they took the ball down the field and scored on a 12-yard run by Monangai.
The Wildcats led 33-7 heading into the final 15 minutes of regulation.
JMU’s Thorpe put a scare into the ’Cats when he tossed two quick touchdown passes and cut the Villanova lead to 33-20 with just over eight minutes remaining in the contest.
The Dukes’ defense then forced a punt and they had their eyes on yet another score, but senior wide receiver Kenny Miles made an outstanding special teams play to pin JMU at their own eight-yard line to start their drive.
After a penalty, the Dukes found themselves backed up against their goal line.
Then, just as in the third quarter, Harmon sacked Thorpe in the end zone for yet another safety. Villanova’s defense would remain tough from there on out, as the team finished the game with a 35-20 victory.
The defense has played consistently well this season, which has been a big reason why Villanova has been able to knock off multiple top-ranked teams.
“Our players always get up for a ranked team,” Talley said. “The competition seems to bring out our best.”
With the win, the ’Cats jumped from being ranked No. 23 to No. 16 in the FCS polls and have a chance to improve that ranking with a win next week.
The Wildcats close out their regular season on the road next week as they take on the Delaware Blue Hens.
Kick-off is set for 3:30 pm.