The No. 8 Villanova Wildcats comfortably handled the Stony Brook Seawolves Saturday afternoon, 33-14. Graduate quarterback Daniel Smith passed for three touchdowns on Senior Day, with two going to junior wide receiver Jaaron Hayek, and one finding the hands of senior tight end Tyler Will. Senior running back Jalen Jackson was able to punch in two scores on the ground for the ‘Cats, the first for 10 yards and the second for four.
Smith finished with 71 passing yards, while graduate running back Justin Covington led the team in rushing with 142 yards on 13 attempts, the majority of which came on a long 83-yard rush in the third quarter. Jackson also broke the century mark on the day, tallying 103 yards on 11 attempts. Defensively, graduate linebacker Forrest Rhyne and senior linebacker Amin Black led the charge, with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Senior defensive back Christian Benford came away with the game’s lone interception, his sixth on the season.
“It was a slow start for both teams with the defenses controlling the game in the early going. I liked the way we stayed patient with the running game, and to end up with two 100-yard rushers was really good to see,” head coach Mark Ferrante said postgame.
“The weather conditions made it difficult to throw the ball, but we still ended up with three touchdown passes which was a big boost for the offense.”
The first real excitement of the game came halfway through the first half, when Stony Brook took back over at their own 43 after a Wildcats punt. The Seawolves were then unable to produce 10 yards in three plays, so they attempted to punt the ball back to the Wildcats. However, on the punt, the snap was mishandled by graduate punter Mitchell Wright. After fumbling the ball he was able to pick it back up, but was brought down by junior special teamer TD Ayo-Durojaiye at the Stony Brook 10-yard line.
After the turnover on downs, the Wildcats were immediately able to make the Seawolves pay for the special teams error, with Jackson going up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown. After a successful PAT from graduate kicker Cole Bunce, the Wildcats were up 7-0 with 5:17 left to play in the first quarter.
The first quarter ended with the Seawolves driving into Wildcats territory, picking up a 4th and 1 on a sneak from graduate quarterback Tyquell Fields. Two plays later, Fields ran a bootleg keeper to the left into the endzone. The ensuing PAT tied things at seven all.
After a few more stalled drives from both teams, the Wildcats found themselves with great field position after the Seawolves had to punt into the wind, allowing the ‘Cats to take over with a fresh set of downs at the Stony Brook 34. However, Covington fumbled the ball on a reception over the middle of the field and the Seawolves recovered, allowing Stony Brook to take back over at their own 22.
The Seawolves were unable to do anything with the drive off the turnover, which allowed the ‘Cats to get the ball back at their own 40. The Wildcats were then able to push into Stony Brook territory, in a drive that included a crucial 4th-and-5 pickup on a pass interference call drawn by senior wide receiver Dez Boykin to give the ‘Cats a fresh set of downs at the Stony Brook 25. Shortly after the 4th down conversion, Jackson was able to find some room to the left for a 4-yard touchdown rush as the half came to a close. After another successful Bunce PAT, the ‘Cats held a 14-7 lead going into halftime.
The weather improved during the halftime break, but the back and forth punting between the two teams continued. The highlight of the third quarter, and arguably the game, was Covington’s electric run from the ‘Cats own 2-yard line. Covington was able to hit top speed, blowing past defenders on an 83-yard run before eventually being brought down at the Stony Brook 15. That set up a prime scoring opportunity for the Wildcats, which Smith was able to cash in on, finding Hayek in the endzone with 8:32 left to play in the third. Bunce missed the extra point, but the Wildcats still led 20-7.
After another strong defensive stand from the ‘Cats, the Wildcats were able to take back over at their own 28, and led a methodical drive into Stony Brook territory, down to the Seawolves’ 18-yard line by the close of the third. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Smith again found Hayek in the endzone for a touchdown. The ‘Cats went for two and failed, but got another chance thanks to a holding penalty on the Seawolves. Ultimately they could not convert the two-point attempt, and the score remained 26-7.
The teams then traded unsuccessful drives before Benford was able to pick off a deep pass from Fields, which he returned to the Stony Brook 42. The ‘Cats then drew another pass interference call on a deep throw into the endzone, which set them up at the Seawolves’ 2-yard line. Smith was then able to roll out of the pocket on the next play and find Will for six. Bunce converted the PAT, and the score stood 33-7 in favor of the Wildcats with 7:46 to play.
Stony Brook was able to find the endzone one more time late, as redshirt freshman running back Jayden Cook punched the ball in from one yard out with one second remaining on the game clock. The score and its PAT only affected the scoreboard, as the ‘Cats still took home the victory, 33-14.
Ferrante said postgame that he was impressed with the way the defense played throughout the game, especially against Stony Brook’s strong rushing attack.
“Our defense continues to do a great job of stopping the run. Stony Brook is one of the top rushing teams in the league so to hold them right around 100 yards for the game was a strong effort by our guys,” Ferrante said. “Overall, it was an outstanding team win on Senior Day.”
The win moves the Wildcats’ record on the year to 8-2, 6-1 in CAA play, as the team prepares to take on rival Delaware next weekend in Newark. A win against the Blue Hens would secure the Wildcats a spot in the CAA championship game, thanks to the head-to-head win the Wildcats have against James Madison. It would be the Wildcats’ first CAA title since the 2012 team had a share of it with three other teams. Winning the conference would also secure the ‘Cats an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.