Szczur, Villanova Overwhelm Stephen F. Austin
Down 21-7 in the first period, Villanova roars back for a 54-24 victory behind the play of Matt Szczur and key contributions on defense and special teams
By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
NACOGDOCHES, Tx. — For the entire Football Championship Subdivision regular season, Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses had shredded opposing defenses and in the first quarter at Homer Bryce Stadium on Saturday, it looked like the senior might do the same thing to defending national champion Villanova.
But trailing 21-7 early, Villanova caught fire in all three phases of the game to blow out the two-time Southland Conference titlist, 54-24, in the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championships.
The Wildcats face No. 1 seed Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., most likely on Friday night at 8 p.m. But the game could also be on Saturday and that decision will be made on Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats, who needed a win on the road against then-top-ranked Delaware in their regular-season finale just to earn an at-large bid to the 20-team tournament, were revitalized by the return to form of 2009 playoff MVP Matt Szczur.
Szczur had played for the first time since September in the Delaware game — after missing seven consecutive games and all but two plays of another. But the senior sparkplug seemed to be almost totally recovered from his double-high ankle sprains, showing his normal quick burst on pass routes and from Wildcat formation.
"We knew it would be a shootout today but we were just here to play football and get after the other team," Szczur said. "It was a terrible feeling to miss seven games and being out there today was a huge boost. It felt great to be on the field helping my teammates out."
The Chicago Cubs prospect caught 11 passes for 121 yards, including a back-breaking, 51-yard touchdown in fourth-quarter and rushed nine times for 68 yards and one 37-yard scamper from the Wildcat to set up a Villanova score.
But defense and special teams also came big for Villanova (8-4) after the Wildcats gave up touchdowns on SFA's first three possessions, the third after a fumbled kickoff return by Angelo Babbaro.
Following that poor start, VU erupted to outscore the Lumberjacks 27-3 in the second period to claim a 34-24 lead and the Wildcats never looked back as they forced six turnovers, including three interceptions from Moses.
Moses, the likely winner next month of the Walter Payton Award, had thrown only four interceptions all year — down from 21 during his junior campaign — and hadn't tossed two picks in any one game in the 2010 regular season.
Moses was 33-of-51 for 341 yards and also set an NCAA record for career completions during the game.
But Villanova confused the side-armed slinging passer, particularly in the red zone by disguising coverages and dropping its linebackers deep into the passing lanes as it held him without a touchdown pass.
“My hats off to Villanova,” said SFA coach J.C. Harper. “There is a reason they are the defending national champions. That is a very tough football team."
The Wildcats showed the poise of a champion by not panicking early and with their inspired play during the second-quarter comeback.
Villanova gradually cut into the SFA advantage with an 11-yard scoring strike from quarterback Chris Whitney (21-of-30, 222 yards, four TDs passing, 13 carries for 49 yards rushing) to Norman White (six catches, 69 yards, three TDs) to make it 21-14 three minutes into the second quarter and the comeback was on.
After the Lumberjacks countered with a 35-yard Thomas Henshaw field goal, the Wildcats roared to the final 40 points of the game.
Mark Hamilton, who started the season as a backup kicker, nailed a 37-yard field goal for Villanova, the first of four successful three-pointers on the day for this once-nervous sophomore to bring it back to a 10-point game at 24-17.
The Wildcats had converted just 3-of-10 field goal attempts during the regular season.
From there, the wheels totally came off of SFA's football wagon.
Strong safety John Dempsey, a senior who has so often come up with big plays during his stellar career, intercepted a pass at the SFA 42 from Moses as the Lumberjack QB threw into a triangle of defenders and returned it 24 yards to the 18.
On fourth and nine from the 17, the Wildcats called time out, presumably to discuss whether to kick a field goal, or go for the first down.
Out trotted Hamilton, but Villanova pulled off a perfect fake with holder Marlon Calbi jumping up and tossing a touchdown pass to a wide-open White. That tied the game at 24 with two minutes left in the half.
The Wildcats were not finished with their second-quarter run, however. SFA went three and out and Drew Nelson shanked a punt for just 18 yards to give Villanova another scoring chance at the SFA 45.
Szczur accounted for 26 yards on three receptions and gained 15 more on a Lumberjack face mask penalty and then Whitney hit Mikey Reynolds for four yards and a score to give the Wildcats their first lead, 31-24, with 34 seconds on the second-quarter clock.
And Villanova still wasn't finished.
Anthony Johnson stripped the ball away from Graylyn Crawford on the kickoff and Jacob Wade recovered for the Wildcats at the SFA 25 to set up Hamilton's 38-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
It was quickly 34-24, Villanova and the Wildcats never looked back.
"We made way too many mistakes and a team like Villanova will always make you pay, and that’s what happened," said Harper. "You have to give Coach (Andy) Talley all the credit. He had his team ready to play."
VU concentrated on running the clock and playing keep away in third quarter and added to the lead with a 30-yard Hamilton field goal before closing the game with 17 fourth-quarter points.
The Wildcat defense kept coming up big with turnovers in the red zone as it held Moses without a touchdown pass for the first time all year. There was also a goal-line stand.