#8 Villanova loses to #1 South Dakota State, 23-12, in the FCS quarterfinals | Villanova vs. South Dakota State Recap
Written by David Szczepanski on December 10, 2023
#8 Villanova saw their season come to an end with a loss to #1 South Dakota State, 23-12, in the FCS quarterfinals. In a cold and windy environment, the Wildcats battled against one of the best teams in FCS history. However, Villanova made too many mistakes to defeat the undefeated South Dakota State and break their now 27-game winning streak.
Quick Game Stats
Wildcats’ QB, Connor Watkins, was 6-18 for 74 yards with one interception. The Wildcats only touchdown was a rushing touchdown from Jalen Jackson. Jackson finished the day with 9 carries for 67 yards. Watkins also scrambled 13 times for 56 yards. Rayjuon Pringle had two receptions for 29 yards.
South Dakota State
Jackrabbits’ QB, Mark Gronowski, finished with just 101 passing yards. He completed 11 of his 19 passing attempts, including one touchdown. SDSU’s leading RB, Isaiah Davis, was the player of the game with 27 carries for 200 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Jaxon Janke had the only touchdown reception for the Jackrabbits along with 22 receiving yards.
Full Game Recap
The weather at gametime was 29 degrees with winds around 30 mph. Villanova started with the football in Brookings, but the Wildcats’ first drive did not go well. After just five plays for ten yards, Villanova punter, Nathan Fondacaro, had his punt blocked to give the Jackrabbits great field position on their first drive of the game.
The Jackrabbits struggled to get anything going on their first drive as well, but they took advantage of the great field position to get on the board early with a field goal. Hunter Dustman’s field goal was the only scoring for both teams until midway in the second quarter.
Villanova would take the lead with 7:55 left in the first half with a Jalen Jackson 25-yard touchdown run. Matthew Mercurio missed the extra point, but the Wildcats led #1 South Dakota State for the first time, 6-3.
About four minutes before halftime, Nathan Fondacaro’s punt was blocked again. However, this time it was returned for a touchdown by Matthew Durrance. The Jackrabbits took a 10-6 lead.
Connor Watkins and Villanova responded with an eight-play drive for 47 yards. Matthew Mercurio converted the 46-yard field goal to cut the Wildcat deficit to just one point. The Jackrabbits could not get any more points before the half, but South Dakota State took a 10-9 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Both teams combined for 199 yards of offense in the first half. Villanova had 135 of the 199 yards, but the blocked punts were the difference in the first half. Connor Watkins was 3-11 with 24 yards. He rushed for 40 yards in the first half. Jalen Jackson rushed for 56 yards with that rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
South Dakota State extended their lead in the third quarter with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mark Gronowski to Jaxon Janke. The Jackrabbits now led the Wildcats, 17-9, with 7:01 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats responded with a nice drive of their own, but Villanova had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Mercurio. The Wildcats cut the deficit to five points early in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats had an opportunity to upset South Dakota State, but they needed a key stop to get the offense back on the field. Unfortunately for Villanova, Isaiah Davis rushed for a 66-yard touchdown to extend the lead for South Dakota State to 23-12. It was a two-play drive for 75-yards in 55 seconds.
With 12:29 left in the game, Connor Watkins was intercepted by Dalys Beanum on a pass intended for Jaaron Hayek. Another Villanova mistake gave the Jackrabbits another opportunity to extend their lead. South Dakota State had a five-minute drive, but they only accumulated 17 yards over seven plays. Villanova had one more chance to try and win the game.
The drive started with a 3-yard run by TD Ayo-Durojaiye. After an incomplete pass and 4-yard scramble by Watkins, Villanova punted on a 4th & 3 situation from their 35-yard line with six minutes remaining. This decision proved costly as the Wildcats would not get another offensive possession. The Jackrabbits ran out the clock with an 11-play drive for 66 yards over 5 minutes and 54 seconds. South Dakota State controlled the second half, especially the fourth quarter, where they had the football for 11:42 out of 15 minutes.
Villanova finishes 10-3
It was not the outcome that Villanova wanted, but the Wildcats gave South Dakota State one of their closest games and biggest tests of the season. The Wildcats could not afford to make as many mistakes as they did in this game. The blocked punts, interception from Watkins, and the decision to punt on 4th & 3 all played a major role in Villanova’s third loss of the season. Both quarterbacks struggled in the cold weather, but Isaiah Davis found more consistency with the Jackrabbits’ rushing attack. Villanova finishes the 2023 campaign with a 10-3 record. There will be numerous starters leaving the Wildcats in the offseason with the number of seniors on the current roster, so this team will look very different heading into next season.