The No. 16 FCS ranked Wildcats opened up their season on the road against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks of the Patriot League. Prior to their matchup, the ‘Cats sported a 9-1 record against Lehigh and were winners of eight straight in the interstate matchup. Villanova entered the game as heavy favorites, and they showed why, walking away with a dominant 47-3 victory and a 1-0 record.
The Wildcats started the scoring with a pair of field goals by kicker Cole Bunce, the second which was a 49-yarder, the longest by a Villanova kicker since 1999. The following two drives — that consisted of 13 plays, only two being passes — ended with Justin Covington touchdown runs, the first from 13-yards out and the second, a highlight reel 51-yard score. An end of the first half interception thrown by Daniel Smith set up a Lehigh field goal, making it a 20-3 Nova lead entering the break.
Following Christian Benford’s second interception of the day, Smith threw a beautiful 17-yard touchdown to Jaaron Hayek, opening up the second-half scoring. A strip-sack by Peter Fallon set up the Wildcats offense in Lehigh territory, and Smith once again delivered an on-target touchdown pass, this time to Dez Boykin from 15-yards out. The third turnover of the third quarter by Lehigh set the Wildcats up in great field position on a drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal by Bunce. As the third quarter was coming to an end, Smith connected with Boykin for a 61-yard touchdown, his second of the day, where he showed off his speed, making it a 44-3 Villanova lead.
Entering the fourth quarter with the game in hand, Nova head coach Mark Ferrante pulled most of his starters. Connor Watkins came in to play quarterback for the ‘Cats and took them into the red zone on his first drive, setting up a 26-yard field goal from William Bartel, the first of his career, and the final score in a 47-3 Wildcats victory.
Villanova outplayed Lehigh in all facets of the game. They controlled the time of possession and shut down the Mountain Hawks offense throughout. Lehigh finished with just 139 total yards, 151 passing and -12 rushing, and on the flip side, Villanova finished the game with 506 yards, 231 in the air and 275 on the ground. The majority of the Wildcats running game came from Covington and DeeWill Barlee, who had 156-yards and 91-yards, respectively. After throwing no touchdowns and one interception in the first half, Smith found his groove, finishing the game 13-21 passing for 182 yards and three passing touchdowns, two going to Boykin. In limited time at quarterback, Watkins looked sharp, completing five of seven attempts for 49 yards with a long of 25 yards. Boykin finished the game as the teams leading receiver with 90 yards, and himself, Hayek, Andrew Perez and Jared Wolfe all had multiple receptions and an average yards-per-catch in double figures. The Wildcats forced six turnovers — four interceptions, two by Benford and one by Denzel Williams and one by CJ Pressley, and two fumbles, one off a bad snap and the other forced by Fallon. Villanova registered four sacks, all by different players, and ten ‘Cats registered multiple tackles, led by Jalen Goodman who had six and Ty Trinh who had five.
Next week the ‘Cats take on Bucknell, who they have never lost to, in their home opener at 6:00 PM.