By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
VILLANOVA, PA. — Someday, Andy Talley said he will look back and reflect on his 200th career victory as the head coach of a Villanova football program he helped resurrect back in 1985.
And at some point, he and one of his biggest coaching buddies, Penn’s Al Bagnoli, will have the chance to sit down to dinner, or take some swings on the golf course and remember their battles as legendary coaches.
But on Saturday evening at Villanova Stadium, Talley was more concerned with reestablishing his Wildcats as one of the top teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“For me to be still breathing and still coaching is a big thing,” Talley joked.
After a disastrous two-loss start to the 2013 season, Talley and Villanova have righted the ship in the past two weeks with a pair of dominating wins over then-No. 16-ranked Stony Brook and Saturday against Ivy League favorite Penn both by crushing 35-6 scores.
“We started 0-2, so we are trying to climb back up to where we think we should be,” said Wildcat sophomore quarterback John Robertson, who completed 19-of-28 passes for 266 yards and three TDs and rushed 15 times for 132 yards and one more score. “We’re going out there and playing hard and trying to have fun, that helps a lot.”
Talley’s players must not read much that is written about their team in the local newspapers, or Online, because Robertson and several others noted they didn’t know about the significance of Saturday’s game until being told about Talley’s potential milestone by university president Rev. Peter Donohue in the Villanova locker room shortly before the game.
“Someone came in and told us about it,” said Wildcat junior receiver Poppy Livers, who sparkled with eight catches for 121 yards and touchdowns of 50 and six yards.
“Someone? That was the president of the university,” Talley noted to a cascade of laughs in the post-game press conference.
You can’t accuse the Wildcats of lacking any focus.
And it showed early and often on the field on Saturday.
Robertson drove Villanova 83 yards midway through the first period before hitting Joe Price for a 15-yard scoring strike.
Near the end of the first period, Penn responded to get into range for a 37-yard Connor Loftus field attempt, but Rakim Cox burst through the center of the line to block that effort and Craig James scooped it up for a 73-yard touchdown jaunt.
By the time that Livers hauled in his 50-yard catch from Robertson for Villanova’s third touchdown four minutes into the second period, this game was close to a TKO.
Bagnoli watched as his team’s normally diverse ground game got grounded by Villanova’s switch to a four-man defensive front, forcing the Quakers to live and mostly die with the pass.
Penn managed just 20 net yards on 30 rushing attempts.
Penn senior quarterback Billy Ragone was harrowed as he completed 18-fo-35 passes for 192 yards, one TD (nine yards to Spencer Kulcsar) and one interception, while backup Ryan Becker was 5-of-10 for 87 yards with two more picks.
Villanova safety Joe Sarnese had two of those interceptions in the end zone to kill Penn scoring threats, while cornerback Corey Reeder had the other takeaway.
“We have the mentality, if you want to play us at home, you are not going to score on us,” said Sarnese.
Penn receiver Connor Scott was spectacular with 11 catches for 129 yards, but there were not many other highlights for the Quakers.
“We have the makings of a good football team, but you couldn’t tell that today,” said Bagnoli. “Some of that was caused by them, that is a really good football team. We didn’t play at the level we are capable of playing.”
Penn will play its usual eight-game Ivy League schedule beginning Saturday at 1 p.m. against Dartmouth at Franklin Field, with an Oct. 12 non-conference game at William & Mary also thrown in.
Bagnoli and company are just glad they won’t see Villanova again for another year.
Robertson split the Quaker defense for a brilliant 36-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to make it a 28-6 game and concluded the scoring with his six-yard toss to Livers in the first minute of the fourth period.
But Talley was more interested in the 2013 season than looking back at a lifetime of wins.
“The 200th victory would be significant against anyone you play,” said Talley. “It’s really a great thing to do it at one university. We needed to get this win and make up some ground.”
And now it is on to worrying about a tough string of games in the traditionally brutal Colonial Athletic Association, beginning with a 1 p.m. game on Saturday at home against William & Mary.
“If we don’t go out and play the way we’ve played the last two weeks, we don’t have a shot,” Talley said, as he contemplated a schedule that includes trips to Towson, New Hampshire and James Madison in the next five weeks, with a home game against Maine thrown in for good measure. “We have a real tough road coming up.”
The Wildcats finish up November with a visit to Rhode Island and their annual Battle of the Blue rivalry game with Delaware, set for Nov. 23 at PPL Park in Chester, PA.