Philadelphia, PA – Last year's Mayor's Cup served as a harsh awakening for Villanova, as the program was forced to quickly accept just how different the future would be without one of its most successful senior classes.
Veteran coach Andy Talley would like to forget the 2011 season.
Throughout his illustrious career, which includes an overall coaching record of 218-134-2 and a 2009 national championship, Talley never had a team win fewer than three games. That was until last season's 2-9 campaign.
In fact, the Wildcats had become so accustomed to their winning ways under Talley that from 2008-10 Villanova recorded 38 wins and nine losses, earning three consecutive FCS playoff berths, (including the national title) and registered back-to-back national semifinal appearances in 2009 and 2010.
The significant three-year run soon became overlooked due to the difficult rebuilding process. It's a process that began immediately after last season's 42-7 Mayor's Cup loss versus Temple.
This year, with a new foundation, fresh start and a returning group of underclassmen, many of whom were thrown into action as freshmen, Villanova tried to take its next step moving forward.
On the other hand, crosstown rival Temple had other plans.
"It all adds up, if you play that way against a really good team, I think you're going to see a score like you saw," Talley said after his team's 41-10 loss at Lincoln Financial Field. "We have been there before with a Division I team, on a hot humid day; they are playing close to 60 kids and we are playing 32. It is a problem for you especially in the second half."
In the final addition of the Mayor's Cup, the Owls, who have made their return to the Big East Conference this year, came away with a convincing win, but they had to earn it first.
VU returned 20 starters from last year's youthful squad (six true freshmen started the majority of games), 11 of whom were underclassmen. Despite trailing, 7-3, after one quarter, The Wildcats outgained Temple 92 to 86 in total yards and hung in well.
"All in all, they are a better football team," Talley said. "We have a long way to go as a 1-AA team, but I think we saw enough good things that if we can coach them up a little bit in the next couple of weeks, we will be a pretty good football team. But we are not now and they were certainly better today."
Eventually, the Wildcats defense showed signs of inexperience and gave up three huge plays. Temple scored on the ground with plays of 19, 56 and 38 yards.
"I was disappointed defensively, I thought we could run better than that," Talley said. "We looked really slow on defense and I really don't know why ... I think they broke our back with the 54-yard run back in the second half. The touchdown reception and interception was murder, so we never really got in a rhythm offensively."
Sophomore Chris Polony struggled under center for an offense that managed only 153 yards passing. Polony threw a costly interception in double-coverage to senior wide receiver Norman White, which was picked off by Vaughn Carraway and returned 48 yards for a score, giving Temple a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.
John Robertson, who did a lot with his feet, was a bright spot for the 'Nova offense. The redshirt freshman signal-caller rushed for 78 yards and one touchdown while passing for 135 yards.
"I was a little surprised. I knew we had a package going in for John (Robertson) for the game," sophomore quarterback Chris Polony said, "He was going to come in the game and run a couple of plays. He did really well and I did not perform as well as I should have. They decided to go with him in the second half."
Robertson capped off a seven-play, 69-yard drive with 1:04 left in the second quarter, cutting Temple's lead to 11. But with 21 seconds left in the first half, Temple running back Matt Brown changed the momentum of the game with a highlight-reel, 56-yard touchdown, giving the Owls a 28-10 lead.
In the second half, Villanova didn't get anything going on both sides of the ball. Talley's offense started seven sophomores, and it showed. Temple ran for 302 yards, while the Owls were led by Brown, who finished with 18 carries for 141 yards and one touchdown.
"Definitely a tough opponent in Temple ... I think we improved a lot from last year's game," Polony said. "We're going to look at tape and correct mistakes. There is definitely some motivation (after last year's 2-9 season) you know, we see some of the national championship rings. We still have a couple of guys back on the team that have won a title and were just looking to get back to that level."