Villanova was in a different situation entering the fourth quarter on Saturday. This time, they weren’t being chased. The Wildcats had to do the chasing.
After trailing by seven points entering the fourth, the Wildcats put together back-to-back scoring drives to defeat Richmond, 35-28. The win ended a three-game losing streak. The Wildcats led entering the fourth quarter in two of those three games and midway through the third of the other.
“Our guys rose to the occasion when they needed to, and we came out on the positive end this time,” coach Mark Ferrante said.
It was a tale of two halves for the Villanova defense. In the first half, they allowed 28 points and had a tough time containing Richmond quarterback Joe Mancuso, who had 102 yards rushing, 69 passing and four total touchdowns.
The Wildcats outgained Richmond, 267 yards to 63, in the second half and didn’t allow a point.
“I think sometimes it’s just settling down, settling in,” Ferrante said.
“It wasn’t the scheme. I felt like the focus was the change,” defensive end Malik Fisher said. “I feel like we kept [Mancuso] contained in the second half, and that was our focus.”
Down seven in the third quarter, Villanova needed a stop. Richmond was marching down the field, mixing the run and pass to perfection, and were 24 yards away from making it a two-possession game.
Mancuso dropped back and went for the big play. He floated a ball down the sideline into double coverage and was picked off by linebacker Drew Wiley, who jumped the route.
“[It was] huge,” Ferrante said. “If they get a strike there and go up two scores, I’m not going to say that’ll deflate us on the sidelines. But it would’ve been a huge momentum in their favor.”
That wasn’t Wiley’s only big defensive stop in the second half. He got a sack on the first play of Richmond’s next drive, which led to a three-and-out. Wiley finished the game with 3.5 tackles for loss.
The Wildcats responded by putting together a 13-play, 78-yard drive, but it ended with a 27-yard missed field goal.
Quarterback Daniel Smith and running backs DeeWil Barlee and TD Ayo-Durojaiye took advantage of an exhausted Spiders defense on the next two drives. Smith ran in a 9-yard touchdown to tie the game, and Ayo-Durojaiye scored the game-winner on a 20-yard run.
Barlee led the Wildcats with 114 yards rushing. Smith had 105, and Ayo-Durojaiye added 45. The Wildcats ran for 242 total yards.
“Running the ball is the easiest way to cut down on turnovers,” Smith said. “It was just part of the game plan. We did what we were supposed to do, and we ran the ball well.”
Nowoola Awopetu opened the game with a 100-yard kickoff return. It was the longest kickoff return for the Wildcats in the last 50 years.
At halftime, the 2009 Villanova FCS national championship team was honored. Before the game, Ferrante didn’t let them give the current team a pep talk because he felt the players would have been late to the field.
However, he didn’t deny that their winning ways may have rubbed off on the current Wildcats.
“We won. I don’t know where it came from, but these guys did the performing,” Ferrante said.