Go back to four weeks ago.
Villanova was 6-0 and ranked fifth in the FCS coaches poll. The Wildcats had the leading rusher in the Colonial Athletic Association and three wins over ranked teams. A showdown with second-ranked James Madison was up next. Fans were even tweeting at ESPN’s to visit the game. The Wildcats lost, 38-24, but the optimism remained.
The players had the perfect way to forget about the game: a bye week and fall break. Then, the next two weeks happened. Two one-possession losses that featured questionable calls. In both games, the Wildcats held a double-digit lead.
“I think our guys now realize that we’ve backed ourselves in a corner a little bit,” coach Mark Ferrante said.
Four weeks removed from an undefeated start, there’s a sense of urgency in the locker room. No, not the scared kind — more like the hungry kind. This team wants to win, and the coaches can feel it.
Practice has been different this week. The energy uptick is noticeable. Players have “a little more pep in their step,” Ferrante said.
It’s not hard to see what’s different. Last week against New Hampshire, Villanova blocked a punt, a play that usually provides a jolt on the sideline. On the Wildcats bench, a few players were hyped, but it wasn’t the same energy that the 6-0 team had shown.
“I just think that they got smacked a little bit, and it’s a little bit of a wake-up call these last couple of weeks,” Ferrante said.
Villanova’s mental toughness is about to be challenged. The Wildcats were a shoo-in to make the FCS playoffs four weeks ago, but not anymore. They’re ranked 19th, and 24 teams will be in the playoffs.
A players-only meeting was called after the last loss. Only three regular-season games remain.
“Their goal is to win a conference championship, get to the playoffs, and win a national championship,” Ferrante said. “Our conference-championship thing is probably behind us now. I think they realize this is the week we need to go out there and play the way we are capable of playing.”
The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 CAA) will host Richmond (5-4, 4-1 CAA) at 1 p.m. Saturday The Spiders started the season 1-3 but have won four of their last five.
Villanova’s 2009 national-championship football team will be in attendance to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. It is the Wildcats’ only FCS championship.