HAMMOND, La. -- From his vantage point at midfield, Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith could only pound the ground in frustration.
After an FCS first-round playoff game against Southeastern Louisiana in which the Wildcats had been in control at halftime, and then lost that control in the third quarter only to retake the lead twice in the final period, Smith’s desperation fourth-down heave from the Lions’ 39-yard line with 48 seconds left fell incomplete, leaving Villanova with a 45-44 defeat Saturday afternoon.
“It just hurts,” said Smith, a transfer from Campbell University who had led the Wildcats (9-4) to their first playoff berth since 2016. “I tried to put some air under the ball but couldn’t get enough on it.
“You think of all the time everyone puts it, and it comes down to that. As soon as the ball hit the ground, I was feeling for our seniors.”
Smith had given Villanova a 44-38 lead with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, this one a 50-yarder to Changa Hodge with 4 minutes, 36 seconds left.
But junior kicker Drew Kresge missed the extra point, his fifth of the season, leaving the door open for Southeastern Louisiana to win the game with a touchdown drive and PAT.
And that’s what the Lions (8-4) did, driving to the Villanova 8, where, on fourth down, Chasson Virgil connected with CJ Turner to tie it with 2:56 left.
Southeastern Louisiana kicker Bryce Broussard, whose missed PAT on the same end of the field had been decisive in a 28-27 loss to Nicholls State last week that cost the Lions a share of the Southland Conference championship, came through despite the ball being tipped by a Wildcat.
There was still plenty of time for the Wildcats, and, after they had reached the Lions’ 40, Smith connected with Jaaron Hayek in the end zone to apparently put the visitors back top.
But Hayek was flagged for offensive interference, one of 11 calls against Villanova against just three for the home team.
That put the ball back to the Villanova 45, and three plays could get it back only to the Southeastern Louisiana 39. Wildcats coach Mark Ferrante elected not to go for the field goal since Kresge had not attempted one longer than 49 yards
Smith’s final throw had no chance, and Southeastern Louisiana advanced to a second-round game next Saturday against sixth-seeded Montana. Villanova’s season is over,
“There was no thought about going for the field goal at all,” Ferrante said. “It was a heck of a game, but we didn’t do enough to put ourselves in position to win before that.”
Smith finished 19-of-30 for 283 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown run during a sequence in the second quarter when the Wildcats used a 78-yard interception return by Elijah Glover, Smith’s touchdown run and his 57-yard touchdown pass to Hayek to stake themselves to a 31-14 halftime lead.
But the Wildcats were shut out in the third quarter, setting the stage for the fourth-quarter dramatics.
“Obviously we had a lot of momentum in the first half, and then we lost it in the third quarter,” Ferrante said. “It’s unfortunate it had to end the way it did, but this team has done a lot to be proud of.”