TOWSON, Md. – Sophomore quarterback John Robertson completed 17 of 18 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 150 yards on 32 carries and scored three touchdowns, leading No. 15 Villanova University (4-2, 3-0) to a 45-35 Colonial Athletic Association victory over the previously-undefeated Tigers (6-1, 2-1) at Minnegan Field at Johnny Unitas® Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Tigers, who had their 10-game winning streak snapped, helped Villanova build a 21-0 first quarter lead and never could catch up. The Wildcats took advantage of three Towson turnovers to take the early lead.
“Villanova is an exceptional football team and when you turn the ball over and give them 21 points, you are going to have a hard time winning the game,” said Coach Rob Ambrose. “We fumbled the opening kickoff, had a tipped ball for an interception and another fumble and we were down by 21 points.
“I am proud of my team,” he added. “We didn’t give up and we kept fighting like I knew we would. We just made too many mistakes.”
For the third game in a row, the Tigers fell behind quickly. Two weeks ago, in a 35-17 win at Stony Brook, Towson spotted the Seawolves a 14-0 lead in the first nine minutes. Last week, New Hampshire grabbed a 20-3 lead in the first nine minutes before Towson rallied for a 44-28 win.
Against Villanova, Derrick Joseph fumbled the opening kickoff at the Towson 20-yard line. Two plays later, Robertson threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Gary Underwood and the Wildcats owned a 7-0 lead with just 57 seconds elapsed in the game.
After the Wildcats kicked off again, quarterback Peter Athens was intercepted on the second play when Pat Williams tipped the ball into the air and linebacker Joey Harmon intercepted at the Towson 32-yard line. It took Villanova eight plays to score again. Robertson gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead when he scored on a two-yard run with 9:39 left in the first quarter.
On Towson’s next possession, junior wide receiver Spencer Wilkins caught a pass across the middle and ran to the Towson 44-yard line where he fumbled. When Cameron McCurry recovered, the Wildcats had a first down at the Tigers’ 44-yard line. Seven plays later, junior running back Kevin Monangai scored on a one-yard run to give the Wildcats a 21-0 advantage with 4:59 left in the opening quarter.
After the Wildcats’ kickoff, the Tigers struck quickly for their first touchdown as Athens threw a career-long 80-yard touchdown pass to Wilkins, cutting their deficit to 21-6 with 4:47 left in the first quarter. However, Drew Evangelista’s conversion kick was blocked and the Towson deficit remained at 21-6.
The Wildcats responded with their best drive of the game. They marched 74 yards in 12 plays and increased their lead to 28-6 when Robertson threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Earnest Pettaway with 14:01 left in the half.
It took the Tigers only 14 seconds to respond. Joseph took the ensuing kickoff and returned it up the middle some 90 yards for a touchdown. It was his second kickoff return for a touchdown this season and the fourth of his career. Trailing by 28-12, the Tigers went for a two-point conversion. When Terrance West threw a pass to James Oboh, the Tigers were down by 28-14 with 13:47 left in the first half.
On their next possession, the Wildcats drove 75 yards in 16 plays and consumed 8:08 off the clock. Robertson capped off the drive by scoring on four-yard touchdown run to give Villanova a 35-14 lead. On the drive, Villanova was helped by two penalties against the Towson defense that extended the drive.
Late in the first half, the Wildcats drove to the Towson four-yard line where the drive stalled. A 21-yard field goal by Mark Hamilton upped the advantage to 38-14 with 22 seconds left in the first half.
Thanks to a pair of receptions by West, the Tigers moved into field goal position in the final seconds of the half. However, D.J. Soven missed a 41-yard field goal and Towson trailed by 38-14 at intermission.
The Wildcats dominated the first half by running 54 offensive plays to 11 by Towson. Villanova had 301 yards of offense while the Tigers managed only 142 yards. Villanova controlled the clock by keeping the ball for 25:17 of the half.
“That may have been the weirdest half of football I’ve ever seen,” admitted Coach Ambrose. “There is nothing in the coaching manual to tell you how to handle a situation where you only have the ball for 11 plays.”
On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Wildcats drove to the Towson nine-yard line where Monangai fumbled. Senior linebacker Telvion Clark recovered at the 10-yard line and the Tigers took over. They marched 90 on 20 plays before West scored his 16th touchdown of the season on a 13-yard run. Athens’ two-point conversion pass to Darius Victor pulled the Tigers to within 38-22 with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
One of the biggest plays of the game occurred early in the fourth quarter. With a first down at the Villanova 49-yard line, Robertson threw a sideline pass to Jamal Abdur-Rahaman. Junior cornerback Tye Smith stepped in front of the play and just missed intercepting the pass. However, he tipped the ball to Abdur-Rahaman, who caught the ball and ran to the Towson 15-yard line. Two plays later, Robertson scored his third touchdown of the game on a 10-yard run to give Villanova a 45-22 lead.
In the early minutes of the fourth quarter, the Tigers’ comeback hopes were thwarted by two interceptions. After the Tigers reached the Villanova 33-yard line, McCurry intercepted a pass at the Villanova 20-yard line.
Four plays later, Hamilton came in to punt. However, Arione Scott blocked the punt and the Tigers had a first down at the 37-yard line. But, Craig James intercepted on the next play and Villanova had the ball back.
“That was a big play in the game,” admitted Ambrose. “If Pete had put a little more air under the ball, we would have had a touchdown.”
Once again, the Wildcats were forced to punt and the Tigers took over at the Villanova 49-yard line. After a 15-yard run by West got the Tigers moving, they reached the nine-yard line. A nine-yard touchdown pass from Athens to Oboh pulled the Tigers to within 45-28. Once again, the Tigers tried for the two-point conversion. West scored the two-pointer but the play was negated by a holding call. The Tigers tried again from the 13-yard line but Athens’ pass was no good and the score remained at 45-28 with 7:49 left in the game.
The Tigers tried an on-sides kick and Wilkins came up with the ball on the Towson 48-yard line. A 20-yard pass from Leon Kinnard to Joseph gave Towson a first down at the Villanova 32-yard line before a 29-yard pass to West moved the ball to the Villanova three-yard line. Two plays later, West scored to pull the Tigers to within 45-34. Evangelista’s extra point made it 45-38 with 6:31 left in the game.
The Wildcats recovered the ensuing onsides kick. However, Villanova was forced to punt and the Tigers got the ball at their own four-yard line with 3:45 left in the game.
Athens directed an efficient drive that reached the Wildcats’ nine-yard line. However, the Wildcats’ defense came to life and stopped the Tigers. On fourth down, Evangelista tried a 21-yard field goal. But Craig James blocked the kick and the Wildcats took over with 57 seconds left.
The Wildcats ran out the clock to clinch their fourth win in a row, ending the second-longest winning streak in NCAA FCS.
“Obviously this game was very unusual, almost bizarre,” said Villanova Coach Andy Talley. “We really capitalized on the turnovers early. We felt if we could get ahead, our offense could control the ball and hang in there for a close game in the end.
“Towson is very good,” he added. “I think we’re a good enough team that if you give it back to us four or five times, probably we’re going to do enough good things that you are going to be on the short end of the stick. I really don’t want to play them again. Terrance West is the very best. Our quarterback needed to have a phenomenal game and he did.”
While Robertson led the Wildcats with 150 rushing yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns, Monangai picked up 62 yards on 18 attempts. Villanova ran for 269 yards on 65 attempts against Towson.
Abdur-Rahaman also had a big game for the Wildcats. He ran for 36 yards on eight carries and caught six passes for 89 yards.
Athens completed 24 of 41 passes for a career high 355 yards and two touchdowns. However, he threw three interceptions.
West, who entered the game as the fourth-leading rusher in NCAA FCS, was held to a season low 61 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 101 yards.
Wilkins had five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Although the Tigers were held to 91 rushing yards on only 20 attempts, they piled up 466 yards of total offense while Villanova had 451 yards of offense.
The Tigers return to action next Saturday afternoon with a 3:30 p.m. CAA game at Albany.