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by Jacob Pickle

Although explosive passing offenses put fans in the stadium and points on the scoreboard, more often than not it’s a team’s ability and efficiency in the ground game that determines how far they go in the playoffs.

The football team saw both sides of this adage in the past month, running all over rival Delaware, 41-10, to regain the Battle of the Blue Trophy, only to have its season ended by Stony Brook with a 20-10 loss in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

With its starting quarterback and senior leader Kyle Essington out due to a thigh contusion, Stony Brook relied on heavy doses of senior running back Miguel Maysonet and junior running back Marcus Coker to dictate the game’s tempo and hold off the Wildcats at LaValle Stadium in Long Island, N.Y., on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova’s season ends with an 8-4 record, a remarkable rebound from its mark of 2-9 a year ago and a far cry from its predicted eighth place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association this preseason.

Stony Brook’s Maysonet, recently named the Big South Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, further justified his accolades with a 160-yard and one touchdown rushing performance that was complimented by Coker’s additional 107 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

With junior backup quarterback Lyle Negron only attempting five regular season passes prior to this game and going 3-for-6 through the air on Saturday, Head Coach Andy Talley and the Wildcats came in with a good idea of the style of football the Seawolves wanted to play.

“We knew they wanted to take the air out of the ball and slow the game down,”  Talley said.

With a talented Villanova defense prepared for the run and an inexperienced backup leading the huddle, the Stony Brook offense that came into the contest averaging 39.1 points per game was expected to stutter.

The Seawolves put this thought to rest immediately, however, with an opening drive that lasted nearly 13 minutes and spanned 98 yards over 21 plays.

Coker capped the drive with a one-yard run to put Stony Brook up, 7-0.

Eighty-two of the 98 yards accumulated during the drive were picked up on the ground, sending an early message that the Seawolves’ top ranked rushing attack could still control a game even without an aerial threat.

Maysonet reaffirmed this point with a 14-yard scamper with 3:13 to go in the half to up Stony Brook’s lead to 14.

Villanova’s running game, which has been one of the CAA’s best all year, was held to its second lowest output of the season with 136 rushing yards.

The Wildcats’ usually-dominant ground attack, led by an overpowering offensive line and two dynamic rushers in sophomore running back Kevin Monangai and redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson, couldn’t seem to find any room to maneuver against the Stony Brook defense for much of the afternoon.

Monangai, the leading rusher in the CAA and only the fifth Wildcat in school history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, was held to 20 yards rushing after surpassing the 100-yard mark in each of the last five games.

Villanova finally got things going towards the end of the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Seawolves were able to hold off the late push.

After field goals before and after the third intermission gave Stony Brook a 20-3 lead, a 21-yard touchdown run from Robertson pulled the Wildcats within striking distance.

The run also put Robertson over the 1,000-yard mark on the season, joining Monangai as one of only five players to do so in school history.

It also made him the first quarterback over the 1,000 yard mark as well.  Even with the history-making performance, the Wildcats were unable to ever pull closer. Their final two possessions ended with an interception and time running out, with the clock striking zero on their season as well.

Only a week earlier, the Wildcats weren’t even sure if they were going to get a shot at the postseason.

Playing rival Delaware at Delaware Stadium on Nov. 17, Villanova knew it needed a victory and the right pieces to fall into place for them to even get the chance to suit up again this season.

Fortunately for Villanova, Towson cruised to a 64-35 victory over No. 7 New Hampshire and the Wildcats held up their end of the deal, trouncing the Blue Hens, 41-10, for the Battle of the Blue Trophy and a share of the CAA title with New Hampshire, Richmond and Towson.

Winning the four-team tiebreaker based on common opponent, Villanova secured the CAA automatic bid to the Division I Football Championship that it worked so hard for all year.  The Wildcats garnered the bid in style as well, with a dominating performance in their regular season finale.

Monangai and Robertson both ran for over 130 yards and a rushing touchdown, with Robertson also going 15-for-21 through the air for 193 yards and a touchdown pass that put the finishing touches on the Wildcats’ opening drive.

Although things remained close coming out of halftime with Villanova only holding a 14-10 lead, the Wildcats put up 27 unanswered points on the Blue Hens in the second half.

After junior kicker Mark Hamilton knocked in field goals from 28 and 37 yards at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter, respectively, Robertson put Villanova up 27-10 with an 11-yard scramble.

The defense then added the exclamation marks on the day, with senior safety Ronnie Akins and senior cornerback Eric Loper both returning interceptions for touchdowns to bury Delaware by the final margin of 41-10.

As disappointing as a season’s end always is, the members of the football team has no reason to hang their heads.

With many of the same players from a disappointing 2-9 team a year ago, the Wildcats engineered an 8-4 season that featured victories over multiple ranked opponents, a share of the conference title and a strong playoff appearance.

With a young roster and a core of talented underclassmen to build around, the potential for this team in the upcoming years is limitless.  Look for the ’Cats to come back in 2013 with championship title on their minds.

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