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Watkins’ three scores help Villanova advance to FCS quarterfinals

Quarterback Connor Watkins took charge Saturday with three touchdowns, including two with his legs to power the Villanova Wildcats to a 45-28 win over Youngstown State in the second round of the FCS championships.

Watkins rushed for 56 yards and threw for 275 yards, including a 64-yard score to Jaylan Jackson to lead the Wildcats into the FCS quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons. The Wildcats next take on undefeated and top-seeded South Dakota State, the defending champion that hammered Mercer on Saturday, 41-0.

It was the seventh straight win for the Wildcats (10-2), ranked eighth in the country, and their 10th straight victory at Villanova Stadium. It was hard to believe the Cats trailed, 10-7, for a chunk of the first half.

“We’ve been resilient all year,” Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said. “We’ve gotten into situations like that before. … We were able to respond and take the lead back going into halftime. The resiliency of this team is, you know they’re going to just keep coming at you.”

Watkins’ 14-yard keeper on an RPO giving the Wildcats a 38-13 lead with 11:49 left said it all. The fifth-year senior faked a handoff to Jalen Jackson, who had already scored twice and took the entire Penguins defense with him to the other side of the field. Jackson wound up with a game-high 81 yards on 11 carries.

“In the last few weeks, I haven’t utilized my legs much,” Watkins said. “We kind of assumed offensively that when they were looking at tape the last few weeks, they haven’t really seen me pull the ball and take off much. So, I was just trying to capitalize on those opportunities when the defensive ends crash, and those linebackers flow hard.”

The Penguins (8-5) got a couple of TD passes from Mitch Davidson, who threw for 287 yards to go over 3,000 yards this season, but it was purely for show.

DeeWil Barlee, who grew up in Upper Darby and played at Episcopal Academy, added a 22-yard run to cap the Nova scoring with 4:52 to go. He finished with 61 yards on seven runs. The Wildcats needed just six plays to go 88 yards for their first touchdown, a five-yard sweep by Jackson.

Barlee ripped off a 35-yard run on the possession, Jackson a 25-yarder as the Wildcats offensive line dominated.

On Villanova’s second series, Dawan Martin (6-4, 240) got penetration and deflected Watkins’ pass to Latrell Fordham, whose easy interception gave the Penguins a first down at the 26-yard line of the Wildcats.

The Wildcats held Youngstown State to a field goal but on the next possession, Davidson found freshman Joey Farthing behind the Nova defense for a 34-yard walk-in touchdown and a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Jackson would not be denied, though, as his 26-yard burst set up a quarterback sneak that put the Wildcats back in front with 11:36 to go in the first half. Ferrante praised the judgement of Watkins, who is in his second full season as the starter.

“He’s making much better decisions,” Ferrante said. “He knows where to go with the football. He knows when to give it, he knows when to pull it out and run the ball a little bit himself. He’s executing at a good level.”

The Cats dodged a bullet in the second quarter when Devon Marshall’s big hit on Max Tomczak was initially ruled targeting. Hard as the hit was, Marshall contacted the receiver with his shoulder. The referee agreed after a review. Instead of a first down at the 20 of the Wildcats, the Penguins were in third and two at the 35-yard line. The Wildcats held and forced a punt.

The Wildcats distanced themselves from the Penguins on the next series. Backed up to the 3-yard line, Watkins found Sanchez for a 64-yard walk-in touchdown and a 21-10 lead.

Matthew Mercurio drilled a 31-yard field goal for the Wildcats. Sophomore Christian Sapp had a third-quarter interception. Moments later Watkins found Jaaron Hayek for a 36-yard reception to set up Jackson’s second touchdown, a five-yard score staking the Wildcats to a 28-10 advantage. Untouched on the run, Jackson had seven rushes for 60 yards at that point.

“We’ll just enjoy this one for the next 24 hours,” Ferrante said “and then get ready for the next one.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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