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Villanova football stays alive thanks to defense

Robertson and the Wildcats are on to the round of eight as they seek a national titleGetty Images

There would’ve been no John Robertson Show Saturday — at least one that mattered — had Villanova’s oft neglected defense not continuously come up huge in the Wildcats’ rousing 29-22 FCS playoff come from behind win over Liberty. The man who passed Chris Bodentobecome ‘Nova’s all-time leader in total offense while still a junior would’ve done it all in vain had the guys on the other side of the ball not kept it close enough to give him a chance.

As a result these ‘Cats still have another life — plus they’ll have another home game — when they take on Sam Houston State, Saturday. The Bearkats, coached by longtime former Delaware coach K.C. Keeler, upset No. 3 seed Jacksonville State, 37-26

That’ll be the story for later. Saturday vs. Liberty the defense responded over and over again to help Nova come back from multiple deficits.

"We always say 'threes, not seven,'" said do-everything linebacker Don Cherry, who had five solo tackles on the day. "When they put the ball back on the five we said 'Thisis where we buckle down.'We feel like sometimes when the offense is down a little bit we step it up for them. I always tell John, 'I got your back no matter what happens.'"

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Down 13-0 a lot did happen before Robertson capped off an 18-play 84 yard drive—all on the ground—with a one-yard run for the game winner with 1:12 left, then the defense stepped up one last time. In between he hooked up with Kevin Gulyas on a school record 87-yard pass to set up one score, then hit Gulyas again on a 70-yard touchdown pass. He followed that up by running for the crucial two-point conversion to tie it up, 22-22, early the fourth.

He also fumbled twice, the first returned 58 yards for a touchdown, the second killing a Nova drive. That and two other Wildcat fumbles might’ve finished them off if not for a defense that held a Liberty team averaging 32.8 points and 424 yards per game in check most of the day on the soggy field.

"To hold then to field goals instead of touchdowns, hats off to our defense tonight,’’ said Andy Talley, whose club limited the Flames to just 246 yards on 70 plays. "They were critical stops for us."

Cherry, whose 118 tackles this season ties him for 8thin school history, says spread the wealth around.

"Our secondary really stepped up and our defensive line played huge,’’ said Cherry, an academic all-American and business school major with a 3.7 GPA. "I’m just running around trying to get to the quarterback.’’

Somehow it worked. The defense kept holding Liberty to field goals. Robertson and the offense—when they weren’t fumbling -- kept getting into the end zone. And Villanova moves on.

"It’s home and our special teams coach (Joe Trainer) said we never lose at home," said Cherry, the junior from Trumbull, CT,who had two of ‘Nova’s 11 tackles for losses.Hopefully we’ll keep that rolling."

Thanks to a defense that kept the John Robertson Show in business at least another week they’re still rolling today.

 
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