Wildcat Football Secures First Winning Season Since 2007
DAVIDSON, N.C. –In a year of record-setting offense, it was up to the Davidson defense to make the final play of the season Saturday afternoon at Richardson Stadium.
And the Wildcats did.
Davidson stopped Butler on four plays inside the 3-yard line in the final 53 seconds, including on a make-or-break run play from the 3 as time expired, to preserve a dramatic 41-38 victory and give the Wildcats (6-5) their first winning season since 2007.
“We just knew we had to step up as a defense,” said junior defensive lineman Bryce Perry-Martin. “The offense has been doing their thing all year. It was our turn to step up and make a play.”
With three seconds to play and after two timeouts, the Bulldogs lined up on fourth-and-goal – ironically – in the Wildcat formation. Running back Brad Sznajader took the snap from center, faked a handoff to back Anthony Scaccia going left, and bolted for the right pylon. But he was met at the goal line by a host of Wildcats, including Chibuike Odo, Tony Collins and Preston Grase. Sznajader was short by mere inches, ending the game with a Wildcats win.
First-year Davidson head coach Scott Abell called the final sequence “program-changing,” especially for a defense that has experienced some growing pains in a new system.
“It’s been tough on them at times, but I’ve seen improvement each week, and I talk about it in every interview I do,” said Abell. “I see us getting better. For them to be given that opportunity and for them to step up and make that play, I’m so proud of them.”
Davidson led 41-30 with 7:27 to play after James Story’s 28-yard touchdown run. Butler answered, however, and cut the lead to 41-38 on a Pace Temple 9-yard touchdown catch from Will Marty. Then the Bulldogs recovered the ensuing onside kick and took possession at the Davidson 49 with 3:44 to play and hopes of tying or winning the game at the end. A 28-yard pass from Marty to Temple got the ball to the Davidson 2 with 53 seconds left, and the Bulldogs decided to play for the win.
Led by Story’s 107 yards, the Wildcats ran for 408 yards at 7.7 yards per carry, and the passing game produced a touchdown as well, when Tyler Phelps found Will Wicks on a 35-yard score in the second quarter. Kahleel Shaw rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and Wesley Dugger ran 17 times for 87 yards and three scores.
In fact, Dugger’s third touchdown came on the day’s first time-expiring score. With the teams tied at 20-all and two seconds left in the second quarter, Davidson set its sights on a touchdown and found one on an option play. Dugger scored from 3 yards out to give Davidson a 27-20 halftime lead.
The Wildcats, who set program records – and lead all of FCS – with 4,924 rushing yards and 6,278 total yards, led the rest of the way en route to victory, and after the final play, the celebration was on for a program that now rides a remarkable run into the offseason with a new sense of pride and confidence.
How will Abell remember the season?
“Without question, it’s a success,” he said.
And he’ll let you in on a little secret, too.
“I’d have told you that even if the last play had gone the other way,” he added.