Sunday, November 09, 2008

Villanova tops UNH in battle of top 10 FCS programs

Villanova, PA - Dual-threat Chris Whitney threw for 80 yards and a touchdown
and added another 70 yards on the ground as No. 6 Villanova topped the eighth-
ranked New Hampshire Wildcats, 24-13, in suburban Philadelphia.

Villanova, which is also nicknamed the Wildcats, came into the game with the
top-ranked rushing defense in the Colonial Athletic Association and rather
than test it, UNH coach Sean McDonnell put the game into the hands of his
sophomore quarterback R.J. Toman.

Toman was up to the task, completing 18-of-28 passes for 264 yards but without
the support of a consistent running game, the speedy Villanova (7-2, 5-1 CAA
South) defense was able to make enough big plays to win it.

Senior receiver Mike Boyle had five receptions for 101 yards for UNH.

Mistake prone New Hampshire (7-2, 4-2 CAA North) also hurt itself with
penalties, drawing nine flags for 54 yards while Villanova was not penalized
for the first time since 1968.

"That is a really good football team," McDonnell said of Villanova. "The
penalties hurt. Hats off to Villanova. They played a very clean game."

"They have a very stout defense," Toman added. "But, we didn't execute in the
red zone with a number of penalties. You can't do that against a football team
like that."

Trailing by just a point, UNH had a chance to take the lead early in the
fourth quarter but Tom Bishop, who was kicking for the injured Tom Manning,
failed to connect on a 43-yard field when it caromed off the right upright
with 14:47 left in the game.

"It was tough," McDonnell said of the kick. "He hit it pretty good. In fact,
he hit the ball very well the entire game. That didn't cost us. We still had a
lot of chances to win the football game."

Despite McDonnell's assertions, the misfire would prove to be costly. Whitney
used his scrambling skills to drive Villanova down the field on its ensuing
possession and capped things with a brilliant option-pitch to Phil Atkinson on
a 17-yard scoring run. The 11-play, 73-yard march put Villanova in front 21-13
with 8:56 on the clock.

New Hampshire answered by going three-and-out and was forced to punt the ball,
hoping its defense could give Toman one last chance.

Villanova faced a 4th-and-1 at its own 38 with under five minutes to go.
Coach Andy Talley sent the punt team on the field but called a direct snap to
upback Matt Szczur. The receiver, who had hurt UNH in the Wildcat formation
throughout the game, scampered six yards for a first down.

Minutes later Joe Marcoux booted a 35-yard field goal with 1:33 left , his
school record 14th of the season, to secure the game.

"That was a classic," said Talley, who passed former UNH coach Bill Bowes for
the all-time CAA record with 98 conference wins. "As far as I'm concerned,
this was a playoff game and our defense came to play."

The UNH defense, which recorded seven takeaways last week against Hofstra,
helped McDonnell's team strike first. Midway through the first quarter,
linebacker Matt Parent tipped a Whitney slant pass at the line of scrimmage
and Sean Ware picked it out of the air and returned it to the Villanova 34.

Toman was able to convert a big third down play by finding Boyle for a 22-yard
gain down inside the 'Nova 20 and, three plays later, Robert Simpson, went
right up the middle for a three-yard TD run.

Talley responded by bringing in the athletic Antwon Young at quarterback for
the first time and the junior used a nice mix of the run and pass to quickly
drive his team down the field, before finally taking it in himself from three
yards out to even the game at 7-7 with 12:28 remaining until intermission.

New Hampshire answered and went back on top thanks in large part to a broken
coverage that enabled Toman to hit Boyle for a 33-yard gain to the Villanova
21. Tim Kukucka's second sack of the half stymied the drive but Bishop
came on and booted a 36-yard field goal with 9 1/2 minutes left in the second

UNH had a tough time with Villanova's hurry-up offense, however, and quickly
found itself trailing for the first time when Whitney capped a nine-play, 64-
yard drive by rolling right and throwing a strike to Brandyn Harvey for a
four-yard score. The ensuing PAT put Villanova on top 14-10 at the half.

After running for a grand total of five yards on 14 carries in the opening
half, McDonnell came out of the locker room intent on rushing the football.
UNH opened the half with an impressive 14-play drive that siphoned over eight
minutes off the clock. Simpson ran for 37 yards on the march but Toman
mishandled a shotgun snap from inside the five and New Hampshire was forced to
settle for a 23-yard Bishop field goal.

UNH will now finish its regular season at home against Massachusetts and on
the road against Maine.

Maine edged UMass 21-20 earlier Saturday and is now even with New Hampshire
atop the CAA North standings at 4-2.

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