#18 Villanova (6-3, 3-3) – previously #11 in the FCS rankings – appeared to be righting the ship following their two previous losses, and #23 UNH (5-3, 4-1) looked like they were going to fall back to a .500 record – but there’s a reason you play all 60 minutes.
“A tale of two halves – once again,” said Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante. “To their credit, they came out and made plays in the second half, we didn’t.”
First-year quarterback Max Brosmer exploded in the second half, throwing a perfect 10-for-10 with 132 yards in the final two quarters. The first-year player’s 25 total completions, 276 yards and three touchdowns all set career highs. He also collected his third CAA Rookie of the Week honor, along with the New England Football Writers/Grinold Chapter Division I Gold Helmet Award en route to his team’s fifth win of 2019 and propelling them back into the national rankings.
The Wildcat offense started their matchup with Villanova like they so often have in their previous games – getting on the board first. Brosmer led a methodical first drive of the game after losing the coin toss. A personal foul from the visitors put UNH at the 15-yard line. Brosmer and his number one wide receiver, sophomore Brian Espanet connected on a pass over the middle to give UNH the lead early. This touchdown contributed to Espanet’s four catches and 79 yards on the day.
Villanova would even the score late in the first quarter after driving 84 yards down the field in just six plays. Junior quarterback Daniel Smith was three-for-three while throwing for 75 yards. First-year running back T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye punched it in from five yards away to tie the game at seven.
Smith continued to find the holes in the UNH secondary to start the second quarter. He completed two passes for 47 yards in the first two plays of the quarter; setting up a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Smith from the one-yard line. The quarterback would rush for 45 yards against the stingy Wildcat defense.
A batted punt by first-year linebacker Elijah Solomon set up Villanova in UNH territory when they took over. Smith dotted a 24-yard touchdown pass to the hands of senior wide receiver Zac Kerxton to put Villanova ahead 20-7 following the missed extra point.
Kerxton had three receptions and 46 yards but was still third on his team in receiving. Junior wide receiver Changa Hodge paced the day for the visiting receivers with 106 yards on seven receptions. First-year running back DeeWil Barlee had 50 yards on three grabs.
Junior safety Evan Horn put a stop to Villanova’s red-zone threat late in the first half; the safety intercepted an errant pass from Smith in the back corner of the endzone.
On the ensuing series, Brosmer took the offense into opponent territory, but it would amount to nothing as he gave the ball right back to close the half. Senior linebacker Keeling Hunter forced Brosmer into his ninth interception of the season. The quarterback didn’t let the pick ruin his second half, however.
“It was completely erased out of my head, it happens, I made a bad throw. I didn’t want it sulk on it and have it effect my second half. I knew my team needed me, so I buckled up and energized my offense.”
Following some halftime adjustments, Brosmer came out firing in the third quarter. A combination of Brosmer and sophomore running back Carlos Washington Jr. pushed downfield in their first series of the quarter. Washington made defenders miss with a 31-yard touchdown rush to narrow the Villanova lead to just 20-14.
UNH got the ball back in less than two minutes and quickly got back to work. Brosmer capped the drive with a 30-yard completion to Espanet, which would set up redshirt first-year running back Dylan Laube for a 31-yard touchdown catch to give his side the lead.
After a pair of Villanova three-and-outs, senior running back Evan Gray would break lose for the Wildcats. Gray rushed for 28 yards on the first three plays of the possession. Brosmer would find Laube once more for a 21-yard score, giving UNH a 28-20 cushion halfway through the fourth quarter.
Horn put an end the Villanova’s day with his second interception of the game with just 14 seconds to go in the contest. His final pick on Saturday gave him the team lead over senior defensive back Prince Smith Jr. for interceptions on the season with four.
Daniel Smith and the visiting offense weren’t able to connect on much of anything in the second half. Smith – who was throwing darts in the first half – lost his edge late in the game. The junior left too much air under the ball and missed too many throws to be able to mount a comeback.
Senior cornerback Isiah Perkins commented on the team’s current status, and how they haven’t quite reached their ceiling yet.
“In the beginning, this was a team that a lot of people didn’t know what we were going to be. We slowly got our momentum back, and we still truly haven’t had a complete game yet.”
UNH has now entered the national rankings for the second time of 2019. The Wildcats will head to Virginia to take on #2 James Madison (8-1, 5-0) in what will be their toughest test of the season. UNH has been underdogs in each of their last two wins at Stony Brook (5-4, 2-3) and against Villanova, but no task will be tougher than this one for a first-year head coach and a first-year quarterback in Brosmer. Perkins isn’t worried about the outside noise however, and is telling his guys to stay focused.
“Don’t look at the websites, don’t look at anything, don’t look at the predictions, just worry about this game right here.”
When asked about the task ahead head coach Ricky Santos had to acknowledge the dominance of James Madison.
“They don’t really have a weakness,” said Santos. “We’ve got to stop the run first and foremost with them.”