December 18 Philadelphia Inquirer:
CHENEY, Wash. – The defense rests.The defending Football Championship Series champion Villanova Wildcats are headed home following a 41-31 loss to Eastern Washington in a semifinal playoff game last night.
Eastern Washington will play the winner of today’s Georgia Southern-Delaware game in the title game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
Villanova star Matt Szczur left in the second half with concussion symptoms and did not return.
Through its first two playoff games, Villanova prospered in the takeaway/giveaway department. Heading west for the semifinal, the team was plus-6 in the postseason.
But on the red turf of Roos Field, the Wildcats’ downfall was the fumble. They coughed up the football three times in the first half and trailed, 20-14, at intermission. A third-quarter fumble was returned 15 yards for an Eastern Washington touchdown after Villanova cut the lead to 27-24.
In all, the Wildcats turned the ball over six times.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed in the turnovers,” coach Andy Talley said. “I think maybe the travel caught up to us a little bit. We’d already been to Texas and we’ve been all over. It’s finals week for us, and our kids were taking finals [Thursday]. That’s not an excuse, but it has been a rough road for us.”
Four lost fumbles and an interception at the EWU 2 put the Wildcats at minus-4 in turnovers in the semifinal game alone.
Angelo Babbaro got the game off to a fast start for Villanova, returning the game’s opening kick 86 yards for a touchdown while a good portion of the 6,600 in attendance were still headed to their seats.
But from there, the Wildcats put themselves in a hole.
Eastern scored on its first drive, marching 63 yards in only five plays to knot the score, 7-7.
On Villanova’s first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Chris Whitney fumbled the snap out of shotgun formation and the Eagles recovered at the Villanova 39. The Wildcats’ defense stopped the nine-play drive at the 7 and Eastern converted on a 24-yard field goal to take a lead it never surrendered.
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