Temple, Villanova square off to open college football season

Villanova Wildcats Temple Owls
Villanova Wildcats quarterback Zach Bednarczyk. (Photo: Getty Images)

They’re not exactly the Sharks and Jets or the Hatfields and McCoys when it comes to neighborhood rivalries. But when Temple and Villanova square off at Lincoln Financial Field at noon on Saturday to open the 2018 regular season there will be more than bragging rights at stake.

For Geoff Collins’ Owls, who came on strong in his first season to finish 7-6 and won the Gasparilla Bowl, it’s a chance to build on that momentum and pick up speed before they enter play in the tough American Athletic Conference. 

However, for Mark Ferrante’s Wildcats, who were wrecked by injuries in a 5-6 season, they get to show how their FCS program measures up against the big boys.

“I like that game because I know we’ll get a good crowd and it’s good for the city,” said Ferrante, whose club hung with Temple all the way last year before Aaron Boumerhi’s late 49-yard field goal won it for the Owls, 16-13. 

“I learned that they’re really big and physical,” he said. “Geoff’s got them going in a good direction. They have a lot of skill and a notch above the teams we have in our league. It’s a great barometer to see where we’re heading.”

For Temple, too, the Wildcats offer a challenge on both offense and defense.

“They’ve got a lot of starters back on both sides of the ball,” said Collins, who returns a batch of starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Frank Nutile, running back Ryquell Armstead, wide receiver Ventell Bryant and defensive backs Delvon Randall and Michael Dogbe. “Their quarterback (Zack Bednarczyk) is very accurate and played really well against us and they have a good receiving corps with speed and length.”

Collins gave a further explanation on what the Wildcats do very well, especially on defense.

“Their offense causes problems for any defense. And their defense was good, especially against the run. They play really good, disciplined, sound fundamental football,” he said. “Our guys understand how good they are since our game last year came down to the last minute.”

That’s one reason why the Wildcats feel confident they can not only hang with the Owls but also beat them on Saturday. 

“We know we have to play our A-game for four quarters,” said Bednarczyk, who’s back healthy after blowing out his knee the fifth game last season.  “We didn’t play that well the first half (trailing 10-0 at intermission), but we came back and showed we have a good enough team to win a game like that.”

Furthermore, as cornerback Rob Rolle explained that just like Nova the Owls put their pants on one leg at a time. 

“They might have a bigger roster than us, but it’s not like we’re playing the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Rolle, who missed the final seven games with a knee injury of his own.  “We carry ourselves just like they do into that game with all the confidence in the world.”

Not since 2009 has Villanova beaten the Owls, which was the start of a brief annual series played for the Mayor’s Trophy.

The series, which became dormant from 1980-2003, was discontinued again after 2012, before resuming last season. But after Saturday, the teams aren’t slated to meet until sometime in the 2020s.

By then it’s likely everyone who plays in this one will be gone, which raises the stakes in 2018 with the series dead even, 16-16-2.

For the Division 1 Owls, who’ll be bidding to go to a bowl game for the third-straight season and fourth in the last five years, losing to an FCS team won’t look good on their resume—even if it’s someone from the neighborhood.
      
“Obviously, I have tremendous respect for their coaching staff and I’ve gotten to know them the past year,” said Collins, whose club will take on Buffalo next week, before heading to Maryland. 

“Their guys play hard and they’re very, very talented. Offensively, they’re very dangerous because they run a complex scheme and their defense does a great job.”

However, Collins is looking forward to having Nutile under center for this game, who didn’t take over as the quarterback until mid-season last year. 

“I’m excited to see him play and lead our team and distribute the ball where it needs to go,” said Collins.  “I’m excited to see him out there with his guys against a really good opponent.”

That respect is mutual, as the neighborly ‘Cats and Owls prepare to square off on Saturday.  Forget the Jets and the Sharks; Temple and Villanova would have it no other way.

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