By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — How bad has the injury situation been for the Villanova football team this season?
The Wildcats were going through its pre-game ritual of a morning Mass on campus last Saturday before an afternoon home game with William & Mary when freshman cornerback Trey Johnson nearly keeled over as he rose from his pew.
“This is a new one for me,” said veteran Villanova coach Andy Talley. “Now we’re losing them in church. We’re not even safe in church.”
Johnson received a couple of bags of IV fluids to combat flu-like symptoms and then played his normal position as the Wildcats came through with a final seconds comeback for a 20-16 Colonial Athletic Association victory over the Tribe on one of the hottest and most humid days that the two coaching staffs could remember.
John Robertson’s one-yard quarterback sneak with 28 seconds remaining capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive for the 3-2 Wildcats after William & Mary had taken a 6-13 lead on John Carpenter’s 24-yard field goal with 5:29 to play.
“We haven’t won a game like that in a long time,” said Talley. “That was a character win.”
Robertson rushed 18 times for 70 yards and completed 21-of-28 passes for 154 yards and one interception against a talented William & Mary defense.
“i think it is great that we came out and won in the fourth quarter,” said Robertson. “It is good for our confidence.”
It is also good for your confidence when you are able to piece things together offensively and defensively with missing pieces on both sides of the ball, like the Wildcats have all season.
“We have really been hurting,” said Talley, the 70-year-old, now in his 29th year at Villanova and his 34th overall as a head coach. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”
William & Mary knows about injuries too. The Tribe’s starting quarterback, senior Michael Graham, was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter.
But William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock blamed the running game more than the loss of his starting quarterback as the Tribe fell to 3-2 and 1-1.
“In the red zone, we didn’t run the ball as well as we can,” said Laycock, now in his 34th year at the Williamsburg, VA. campus. “We’ve got to do a better job down there.”
The red zone play went along way into the decision for the Tribe to kick a field goal, facing fourth and one at the Villanova six-yard line in the fourth period instead of going for the Wildcats’ jugular.
“Fourth and one, we’ve been playing great defense all year. I was going to take the points and try to hold them,” Laycock said. “Give (Villanova) credit, that is a heck of a drive they put together, 80 yards.”
It was a much-needed win for the Wildcats, who are in the midst of a brutal stretch of CAA games with little safety net.
On Saturday night, Villanova travels to the Baltimore suburbs to take on No, 2-ranked Towson, with games at New Hampshire, at home against Maine and on the road at James Madison to follow in the next month.
Maine, Towson and Villanova are currently tied for first place in the CAA at 2-0.
“It was a pain-staking, gut-wrenching game,” said Talley. “We always seem to play games like that with William & Mary.”
And it is a victory that sets up what some are calling the CAA game of the season.
Towson improved to 6-0 overall with a 44-28 thrashing of New Hampshire that wasn’t nearly as close as the score.
At least New Hampshire’s defense held the Tigers to less than 60 points this time, after being scorched for 120 points combined in the past two years.
Towson trailed 20-3 in the first quarter before ripping the game open behind a 24-point outburst in the second period and the 238-yard rushing performance from All-American junior tailback Terrance West, who scored three touchdowns.
“Towson has great balance across the board,” said Talley. “This is, maybe, the best team in the country.”
If you didn’t catch Talley’s impression of Towson the first time, he elaborated in his praise for the Tigers.
“I’ve seen (two-time defending FCS champion) North Dakota State play,” Talley explained. “I watched them play Northern Iowa last week. I think Towson might be better.”
Talley also singled out the play of West.
“Terrance West is without question the best running back in FCS,” said Talley. “We are not going to stop him, but we will try to slow him down.”
The 7 p.m. game will be featured on the NBC Sports Network, with a sellout crowd anticipated for Towson’s homecoming celebration.
Like Talley, Towson coach Rob Ambrose is expecting an incredible showdown.
“Villanova is an incredibly talented team and is extremely well-coached,” said Ambrose. “Villanova isn’t just a great team. Villanova is a great program.”
Just as Talley singled out West for praise, Ambrose did the same with Wildcat quarterback Robertson. West and Robertson were the Jerry Rice Award winners in the past two seasons and were also named as the College Sports Journal freshmen of the year.
“Their quarterback is one of the best players in the league if not the country,” Ambrose said of Robertson. “Villanova has the ability to withstand injuries without missing a beat because they have such tremendous depth.”
Talley just hopes that depth travels with his team for its pre-game Mass on Saturday morning, as well as on the field on Saturday night.