All Villanova seemingly had to do to hold off a furious Stony Brook comeback was take time off the clock while leading by two with 1:32 to play.
But confusion over a rule regarding the game clock allowed the Seawolves to gain an extra possession and kick a last-second field goal to beat the Wildcats, 36-35, on Saturday at Villanova Stadium.
Stony Brook (5-3, 2-2 Colonial Athletic Association), trailing by 15 with with less than five minutes to play, put together two touchdown drives and were a 2-point conversion away from tying the game with 1:32 left. The pass was dropped by wide receiver Andrew Trent in the slippery conditions, and Villanova held a 35-33 lead. Stony Brook had just one timeout. The game appeared to be over.
But on first down after a failed onside kick, Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith tried to kill time in the backfield and was tackled for a 13-yard loss with 1:19 showing on clock. There also was a holding call on the play. The penalty was declined because the play lost more than 10 yards.
Due to a recent rule change, when there’s under two minutes to play and there’s a penalty, the game clock can start on the snap if the opposing team chooses, rather than when the referee is at the ready. Letting the clock start at the snap let Stony Brook save its timeout for the next play.
Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said he was unaware of the rule change.
“The referees said with a new rule in place –– and they can’t remember if it was last year or the year before the rule came in place –– that if the game is under two minutes, then the opposing team can decide to start the snap on the play for ready from the referee or on the snap," said Ferrante. "Obviously, they chose to start the clock on the snap and it gave them their timeout back.
“I’m going to look it up as soon as we leave here. I’ve got the rule book sitting on my desk right now.”
After two more failed runs, Villanova punted with 28 seconds remaining instead of celebrating a homecoming win.
With 21 seconds left and no timeouts, Stony Brook started at its own 36.
After a 19-yards completion to to Andrew Trent and a 40-yard pass to Nick Anderson (eight catches, 137 yards), Stony Brook reached Villanova’s 5-yard line with four seconds left. Nick Courtney made the 22-yard field goal as time expired, and the Wildcats (6-2, 3-2 CAA) were left stunned after blowing an 18-point, second-half lead.
“We live in the CAA,” Ferrante said. “No lead is safe. We learned that today, obviously. And I mismanaged the time clock at the end of the game.”
Villanova dominated the first half and took a 28-10 lead into the third quarter. But a fumble off the second half’s opening kickoff and a Smith interception on the next offensive drive resulted in 10 points for the Seawolves, who stayed within one possession for much of the second half.
With 9:09 to play, a Villanova drive that included two fourth-down conversions ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by DeeWil Barlee. Stony Brook responded with a 14-play, 73-yard scoring drive as quarterback Tyquell Fields connected with wide receiver Shawn Harris for the touchdown making it a one-score game.
Fields, who is typically featured in Stony Brook’s rushing attack that’s ranked second in the CAA with an average of 235.3 yards per game, had to win the game in the air. Villanova’s run defense, second best in the CAA, held the Seawolves to 69 rushing yards in the first half on 19 carries and 158 total.
Fields was up to the task, finishing 21-of-37 passing for 320 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for a 15-yard score.
Villanova dominated the first half as Smith, who completed 17-of-29 passes for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception, kick-started the offense with a trick play. He caught a screen from freshman wide receiver Jaaron Hayek and took it 68 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
Smith, not necessarily known for his running ability, cracked a smile when discussing his first career touchdown catch. But he was more focused about the loss.
“This is going to hurt tonight,” Smith said. “We’ll learn from it. It’s all you can do when you lose a game like this.”
Smith became the first Villanova quarterback since Chris Whitney in 2009 to throw and catch a touchdown in the same game.
And the tricks didn’t stop there.
Freshman running back TD Ayo-Durojaiye, with the Wildcats leading 21-10 late in the second quarter, took the ball in the backfield and fired a 24-yard pass to Hayek for a touchdown.
His first career touchdown pass came just after his first career touchdown run, a 24-yard scamper up the middle earlier in the second quarter.
In the Wildcats’ first full game without star running back Justin Covington, who will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury, Ayo-Durojaiye and freshman DeeWil Barlee proved to be dynamic replacements. Barlee picked up 131 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Ayo-Durojaiye had 68 total yards and two touchdowns.
Villanova, which lost its second straight game, travels to New Hampshire on Saturday.