By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
VILLANOVA, PA. — Coming off a two-win season in 2011, Villanova coach Andy Talley was hopeful his team would have a winning season in 2012 and, maybe if things broke right his Wildcats could win seven games and have an outside chance at a playoff berth.
But after a dominating 35-20 performance against No. 6-ranked James Madison on Senior Day before 6,617 fans at Villanova Stadium, the No. 18 Wildcats have higher aspirations — a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title.
"We needed a big game and we got it," said Talley, now in his 33rd season since resurrecting the Villanova program. "That's the best we've played since the ODU game. After a 2-9 season to have a chance going into your 11th game having a chance to (A) make the playoffs and (B) win the league championship is incredible."
Villanova (7-3 overall, 5-2 in the CAA) will likely wrap up a playoff slot by downing Delaware next Saturday at Tubby Raymond Field in the Battle of the Blue — usually one of the most hotly contested rivalry games in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Wildcats cut through the CAA's top defense to build a 17-0 lead and then put their feet on the gas pedal after hitting a couple of speed bumps in the second half.
Kevin Monangai, helped by a stalwart performance by the VU offensive line, gashed JMU for 150 yards and a one-yard touchdown on 25 carries to become just the fourth player in Villanova history to rush for 1,000 yards.
The sophomore's performance gave him 1,044 yards on the year to join Brian Westbrook (three times), Aaron Ball and Curtis Sifford as the only 1,000-yard backs in the school record book.
Villanova's redshirt freshman quarterback John Robertson balanced Monangai's performance by hitting 8-of-14 passes for 141 yards and one TD passing and added 21 carries for 61 yards and two more scores before being knocked out of the game with a hard hit in the third period.
That helped the Wildcats pile up a 455-231 advantage in total offense, a 25-13 edge in first downs and nearly a 38-22 mismatch in time of possession.
"I want to really give a lot of credit to Villanova, they really played tremendous, they played hard, they played hungry," said JMU coach Mickey Matthews. "For JMU, I'm embarrassed and humiliated with the way we played today."
James Madison (7-3, 5-2) had a chance to all but wrap up an NCAA Division I playoff berth and to put itself within a victory over Old Dominion of earning at least a share of the CAA title.
"We had it all in front of us," said Matthews. "We didn't play hard, we just kind of showed up. How we react (next Saturday against Old Dominion at home), I wish we knew."
The Dukes cut Villanova's lead to 10 points early in the third period, following a John Robertson fumble on a hit from JMU linebacker Stephon Robertson hit and a recovery by defensive end Aaron Harper at the VU 18.
That resulted in Justin Thorpe's one-yard scoring burst.
But it was just a brief burst of hope as this dangerous senior athlete was held to 17 carries for 55 yards rushing and completed just 14-of-26 passes for 123 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
"I thought it was going to be a heck of a game in the second half," said Matthews. "It's 17-7. They just fly down the field against us and make it 24-7."
It took only two-and-a-half minutes for the Wildcats to race 69 yards in nine plays, capped by John Robertson's one-yard scoring plunge to put Villanova back in control and things got worse when linebacker Joey Harmon and safety Matt McCann knifed through the JMU line on a blitz and caught Thorpe in the back of the end zone for a safety.
When Villanova turned the drive after the ensuing free kick into another touchdown march on Monangai's one-yard blast, it was 33-7 and in this post-election week, most everyone was ready to project Villanova as the winner of this Pennsylvania football game with nearly three quarters of the votes counted.
About the only negative aspect of the proceedings was that John Robertson took a shot to the head from Stephon Robertson and was knocked from the game midway through the third period.
"Right now, I hope John is okay," said Talley. "I don't think he had a concussion, but he was having trouble remembering the plays we called for him."
But James Madison struck for a pair of scores on an 11-play, 72-yard drive, with Thorpe hitting tight end Brian Barlow on a 13-yard fade route in the end zone and after one play following a 25-yard Ryan Smith punt return as Thorpe found Quintin Hunter wide open for six more points.
With 8:39, the Dukes tried a pooch punt that VU senior Dorian Wells (four catches, 47 yards, one 20-yard touchdown) fair caught at the Wildcat 30. Down two possessions, James Madison only got the ball back once more and that proved disastrous.
Kenny Miles nailed Smith for a four-yard loss at the JMU four on Mark Hamilton punt and on third and 12, Thorpe was drilled again by Harmon in the end zone for another safety.
"We couldn't get anything started out there," said JMU running back Dae'Quan Scott, who came into the game battling Monangai for the CAA rushing lead, only to finish with 12 carries for 45 yards and five receptions for 30 more. "We didn't run, we didn't block. That's the end of the story."
Ahead by 15 points, Villanova took the next free kick and controlled the ball for 12 more plays on the ground to run out the final five-and-a-half minutes.
"Probably the biggest thing was how bad our defensive front played and how our offensive line played," Matthews said in the post-game press conference. "I'm so mad right now, I don't want to make comments I'll regret in 30 minutes."
Coming off an open date after a 49-35 home loss to defending CAA champion Towson two weeks ago, the Wildcats were focused from the start and scored on their opening drive after forcing an early JMU punt.
Robertson scored from four yards out to end a 10-play, 74-yard drive and Villanova added two more scores in the second quarter on Hamilton's 22-yard field goal and that scoring aerial from John Robertson to Wells.
Safety Joe Sarnese, who also had a team-high eight tackles, set up the Wells touchdown one after he nearly picked off one pass when he swiped the next Thorpe delivery and returned it to the JMU 45.
Linebacker Devon Bridges added another interception off Thorpe in the second half to provide a scoring opportunity that Villanova didn't capitalize on.
That was one of the few things anyone could criticize Villanova for on this day.
"Our defense came off sort of an embarrassing performance against Towson," said Talley. "They had a chance to sit on that for two weeks. We were going to show up today."