The play that turned the game in the direction of Villanova was an interception by Villanova Senior Corner Back James Pitts who came up with an interception returning it 26 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes to play in the third quarter. The touchdown gave Villanova a 23 – 14 lead at that point. It was the second consecutive season Pitts stunned Penn with an interception return for a touchdown as his score blunted a late Penn drive last year at Villanova Stadium.
“Any time you get a turnover it’s a game changer,” Villanova Coach Andy Talley said. “That tilted the game in our favor.”
“Every time the defense creates a turnover and scores, it’s a carry over to the offense,” said Pitts. “The ball bounced off his chest and I caught it. It’s just being in the right place at the right time.”
Penn had three turnovers, all in the second half. All three turnovers resulted in Villanova scores, a field goal off a fumble and two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
“It’s the same old story,” said Penn Coach Al Bagnoli. “We can’t make a mistake. We keep making one or two mistakes. Every time there is a mistake to be made, they capitalize on it and it’s a back breaker.”
Turnovers have been a problem for Villanova. The Wildcats had just one turnover early in the game. Senior Quarterback Christian Culicerto had his pass intercepted by Penn Senior Safety Jason Schmucker giving Penn a first down at the Villanova 14 yard line. Junior Running Back Brandon Colavita scored on a 1 yard plunge capping a 5 play, 14 yard drive to give the Quakers a 7 – 0 lead with 6:57 to play in the quarter.
Villanova has struggled on offense in the first half. They had yet to score in the first half thus year. However, in this game the Wildcats broke that streak. In the ensuing possession Villanova took the ball from their 34 yard line to the Penn 25. Junior Kicker Mark Hamilton made good on a 42 yard field goal. It was the longest field goal of his career, and he has converted on seven straight attempts to bring Villanova to within 7 – 3 at the 3:08 mark.
In the second quarter Villanova would get their first touchdown of the first half this year as Culicerto evaded the Penn pass rush and found Junior Wide Receiver Dorian Wells behind the Penn defense. The 54 yard catch and run was a career-long reception for Wells and put the Wildcats in front 10 – 7 lead with 14:06 to play in the second quarter. Penn answer scoring on a 4 play, 63 yard drive in 1:38. Junior Running Back Jeff Jack ran for a touchdown from 8 yards out. The drive was highlighted by a 43 yard run by Colavita setting up the Red and Blue at the Villanova 17 yard line. Jack got into the end zone 2 plays later to give his team a 14 – 10 lead at the 8:51 mark.
Villanova would get another field goal late in the second quarter to get to within 14 – 13 at halftime. However, Villanova was at the Penn 1 yard line looking for the go ahead touchdown. The Penn defense, and a offisdes penalty forced Villanova into the field goal of 19 yards from Hamilton.
The second half started with Penn on a march. This time Villanova got a turnover as Sophomore Defensive End Rahim Cox recovered a Penn fumble at the Villanova 31 yard line. The Wildcats drive to the Penn 14 yard line featured by four consecutive runs that covered 30 yards by Freshman Running Back Kevin Monangai. Again, the Penn defense held forcing a 31 yard field goal attempt by Hamilton. The kick was good and Villanova had a 16 – 14 lead with 5:59 left in the third quarter. In the ensuing possession Ragone hit Senior Wide Receiver Ryan Calvert with a pass that was bobbled into the air. Pitts came up with the interception returning the ball for a touchdown and the 23 – 14 lead as Hamilton converted the extra point.
Penn would mount a comeback. The Red and Blue took possession at their 38 yard line with 11:30 remaining in the game. Ragone hit Sophomore Wide Receiver for 29 yards on the first pay. Two plays later it appeared that Villanova had another interception as Sophomore Corner Back Craig James caught a bobble off the hands of Penn Senior Tight End Luke Nawrocki. But, a roughing the passer penalty and a personal foul set up Penn with a first and goal at the Villanova 10 yard line. Calvert hauled in Ragone’s pass for a touchdown. The extra point was good making the score 23 – 21 Villanova with 10:01 to play.
Villanova Junior Safety Ronnie Akins out the exclamation point on the win by returning an intercepted Ragone pass 26 yards for a touchdown, and the nine-point margin of victory as Penn had their last chance to pull the game out.
The Wildcats get their first win against four losses. The Blue and White open the CAA part of the schedule against William and Mary at home. The winning streak against Penn continues. It is never easy.
“I don’t think there is any magic spell,” said Talley. “We come into the game knowing it’s going to be a barn burner. What helps us in the game is that in our league we have to play lights out for four quarters to win a game. Even when we were national champs, we had to fight in the fourth quarter. It’s a carry over value that we have. We have to do that to survive in our league, and that serves us well in a game like this.”
For Penn it is another tough loss, but the task now is put the frustration behind them and prepare for the Ivy League games. That begins next week in a night game at Dartmouth.
“If we can learn the lessons about preparation, that will bode well for us in the future,” said Bagnoli.
Written By: Glenn Papazian