Dec. 5, 2009

Sidebar: Babbaro's Note, Play Echo Through Villanova Win

By Gordon Jones
Special to

VILLANOVA, Penn. – Villanova, as relentless as the snowstorm that swept through Southeastern Pennsylvania Saturday, buried New Hampshire 46-7 in a Football Championship Series quarterfinal game.
“Playing a team like New Hampshire you would think with those kind of conditions it would fall into their lap a little bit,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said. “But I thought we handled the conditions better than they did.”
In fact, Talley said, “It’s probably as good as we can play in those kinds of conditions.”
Junior strong safety John Dempsey returned a New Hampshire fumble four yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and Villanova (12-1) rushed for 343 yards (while limiting UNH to minus-66 on the ground). That enabled the hosts avenge their only loss this season and advance to the FCS semifinals for the second time in school history.
Villanova, which lost to McNeese State in the 2002 semis, will host William & Mary (11-2), a 24-3 winner over Southern Illinois, next Friday or Saturday at a time to be determined.
Villanova beat William & Mary 28-17 on Oct. 3, in Colonial Athletic Association play. A week later New Hampshire topped Villanova 28-24.
The rematch featured the CAA’s two highest-scoring teams. New Hampshire (10-3) came in averaging 33.9 points a game; Villanova (which like UNH is nicknamed the Wildcats) was scoring at a 32.3 point-per-game clip.
But a shootout never materialized, in part because snow began falling an hour before kickoff and blanketed Villanova Stadium’s artificial surface.  The storm, accompanied by high winds, did not abate the rest of the game.
“I could sit here and tell you a lot of things about the weather,” New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. “It was the same for Villanova.”
Rather, he said it was a matter of Villanova playing “downhill football.”  The CAA’s top rushing team at 228.5 yards a game coming in, Villanova ran the ball 59 times on its 64 offensive plays. Running back Angelo Babbaro, a junior backup who did not play in the teams’ earlier meeting because he was suffering from turf toe, had 13 of those carries, for a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns.
McDonnell also said his team  “made as many mistakes as you can make in a football game.”
“And,” he added, “they took full advantage of them.”
The first miscue came on the day’s opening snap, a first down from the UNH 25, when running back Chad Kackert fumbled the exchange from quarterback R.J. Toman. Dempsey tracked down the loose ball, lost it, then finally corralled it before taking it in. The touchdown was the first of his career.
“It was one of those things,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time.  … It was a huge momentum factor for us. We didn’t take our foot off the gas after that.”
Villanova’s Nick Yako added a 32-yard field goal on his team’s first possession. Babbaro went 25 yards for a TD late in the first quarter, and quarterback Chris Whitney sneaked a yard to make it 24-0 early in the second.
Villanova tacked on a safety in the third quarter, then two more rushing touchdowns – a 29-yarder by Matt Szczur and a 59-yarder by Babbaro.
New Hampshire’s only points came on an 18-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Kevin Decker to wide receiver Mickey Mangieri, 35 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Villanova backup quarterback Antwon Young plowed a yard for the day’s final touchdown with 4:02 to play.
Villanova, which tied a school record with its 12th victory of the season, ran for over 275 yards for the fourth straight game. In that span the Wildcats have outgained their opponents on the ground, 1,198-73.