VILLANOVA OPENS WITH A WIN
BY ROCK HOFFMAN
College Football Editor
In their first season opener at home since 2004, the No. 5 Villanova Wildcats scored a 45-17 win over Lehigh on Goodreau Field at Villanova Stadium on Friday night. Junior quarterback Connor Watkins was outstanding, he threw for 298 yards, a school record for quarterbacks making their first career start, and three touchdowns. The Wildcats defense allowed 408 yards but took the ball away twice which the offense converted into touchdowns.
“Regardless of how the game goes,” said Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante, who is starting his sixth season at the helm, “it’s never as good and never as bad. There’s always correctables in games like today. We’ll get the corrections done but we’re going to enjoy the victory tonight.”
Early, the Wildcats (1-0) moved the ball, they just couldn’t finish drives. On their initial possession they turned it over on downs. Their second chance ended with a field goal when they couldn’t convert a first-and-goal at the Lehigh 10 into six points.
Meanwhile, the ‘Cats defense bent but didn’t break. The Mountain Hawks (0-1) moved into Villanova territory with each of their first two drives but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-long from the Villanova 30-yard line ended their first possession, the second ended when the Wildcats’ defense stuffed a fourth-and-one run.
At that point, the early script was discarded. The Wildcats had no trouble finishing the next drive – which was just two plays - because Connor Watkins ran a beautiful RPO and found Dez Boykin all alone deep down the middle of the field for a 66-yard touchdown.
“I was trying to hold onto the ball as long as possible,” Watkins said, “to let him clear out as much field as possible and I’m thankful he could run under it and get it."
Four plays into Lehigh’s next possession, linebacker Daniel Abraham intercepted a Dante Perri pass and returned the ball to the Mountain Hawks 21.
“We make the offense earn everything,” said Abraham, a graduate transfer from Harvard. “Get off the field and force our offense back on the field is what we try to do. Whenever we can create electric plays, we call them EGB’s, it’s great for our team.”
Jalen Jackson carried the ball on three-straight plays following the pick, on the last one he ran into the end zone from nine-yards out though a huge hole on the right side of the Villanova offense.
Lehigh started the next drive deep in their own territory, the ‘Cats defense forced a three-and-out and their offense took advantage of another short field. On the second play of the possession, Watkins hooked up with Rayjoun Pringle for a 38-yard completion to set up a four-yard touchdown catch by Jaaron Hayek.
After a Lehigh touchdown made it 24-7, Watkins completed another long pass for a touchdown. This time, after escaping a rush, he rolled to the left and threw back to the right to Hayek, who made the catch around the Lehigh 10-yard line then raced to the end zone for a 68-yard score.
The Mountain Hawks scored just prior to halftime, and it was 31-14 at the break. Lehigh opened the second half with a field goal, but the Wildcats answered, matriculating the ball down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that took over five minutes. Watkins called his own number for the touchdown, going up the middle for four yards. It was 38-17 and Villanova had reestablished control and never looked back.
“We knew that the third quarter,” said Watkins, who completed 11 of his 15 passes, “at the beginning, was going to be key and we were locked in, focused, and ready to go.”
They converted a second Lehigh turnover into the final score of the game early in the fourth quarter.
Email Rock Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org