Dec. 5, 2009

By Gordie Jones
Special to NCAA.com


VILLANOVA, Pa. — In the end, Angelo Babbaro was as good as his word.

Villanova’s junior running back rushed 13 times for a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns as his team routed New Hampshire 46-7 in a Football Championship Series quarterfinal Saturday afternoon.

And the snowy conditions? Not a factor, as far as he was concerned. He had played in snow before, notably in three playoff games as a high school senior in Canfield, Ohio.

“I felt at home today,” he said.

He felt less comfortable sharing his thoughts about the game with his teammates, in the days leading up to it. As he said, “I’m not really that vocal. I lead by example.”

But he had a lot of things on his mind, since he had missed Villanova’s regular-season meeting with New Hampshire— a 28-24 loss on Oct. 10— because he was suffering from turf toe, an injury that caused him to miss one other game and curtailed his production all season.

So he sat down on Friday night and composed a one-page, single-spaced letter to his teammates; it took him “about an hour,” he said. He had written such letters before, but only to his old high school team, which his coach would then read to the players before big games.

But he had never written one like this.

“I felt that since I didn’t play in the game earlier, there was a lot of stuff in my heart that I wanted to share with everyone,” he said. “I felt I could get a lot more out if I wrote it down.”

His message, he said, was this: “You’re not guaranteed a second chance in life. We had one today.”

The letter was placed in each of his teammates’ lockers before the game.  And, he said, “I was watching everybody to make sure they weren’t throwing it on the ground. I was excited that they were sitting down and taking the time to read through it.”

Several of them told him they appreciated his thoughts, and that he had taken time to express them. And whether because of his letter or because the Wildcats were eager to atone for a listless performance in the earlier game against UNH— their only loss to date—they played inspired football.

The defense limited New Hampshire to 84 yards, including minus-66 on the ground, the fewest rushing yards ever allowed by a Villanova team. The Wildcats had six sacks, 2.5 by defensive end Tim Kukucka, and forced two turnovers. The first of those, a fumble on the game’s first play from scrimmage, was returned four yards for a touchdown by strong safety John Dempsey.

And with Babbaro leading the way, the Wildcats rushed 59 times for 343 yards.

Babbaro’s touchdowns came on a 25-yard run in the first quarter and a 59-yard gallop in the third.

“I knew we were going to run the ball a lot, considering the conditions,” he said. “I’ve played in conditions like that. I was excited. I wanted to get the ball and show everybody what I could do.”

Normally he takes a backseat to Villanova’s feature back, fellow junior Aaron Ball, whose 12-carry, 46-yard game Saturday vaulted him over the 2,000-yard mark for his career. And because of the toe problem Babbaro began the day with season totals of just 42 carries and 237 yards, 103 less than he had gained as sophomore.

That he came through on this day was a credit to his line, he said—a sentiment echoed by coach Andy Talley.

“It’s what’s up front that counts,” Talley said.

But there was something more to it than that.

“He put his thoughts and heart together with action,” Talley said.

And was, as a result, as good as his word. Maybe better.