By Bill Sullivan
Although Dom Scarnecchia is accustomed to playing in marquee athletic events, he has a chance Friday for an unprecedented achievement for his school.
And the Villanova junior couldn’t be more prepared — he’s been getting ready for this day all his life.
Friday at 8 p.m., Villanova (13-1) will meet Montana (14-0) in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game in Chattanooga, Tenn.
A victory would give the Wildcats their first national football championship.
While playing football at Cardinal Mooney, Scarnecchia helped the Cards to two state titles (2004 and 2006) and a runner-up finish (2005).
He also ran track his final two years at Mooney, running a leg on the 4x400 relay that placed third in Ohio as a senior after he finished sixth in the high jump the year before.
Despite all his football success in high school, Scarnecchia didn’t handle the punting duties there.
It wasn’t until last season, when Villanova had a vacancy for the position, that his true calling became apparent.
“They threw me in there,” Scarnecchia said of the punting position. “If I’m the best man for the job, I’ll do it.”
In the semifinal win over William & Mary, Scarnecchia had three punts downed inside the 5 yard line and two more downed inside the 20.
“I can say that when I recruited him, I had no idea he could punt,” Villanova assistant coach Brian Flinn said of Scarnecchia.
Flynn graduated from Ursuline in 1993 and played on two Division III national championship teams at Mount Union. He now coaches receivers and is the recruiting coordinator at Villanova.
“He just wanted to help out and he found a way,” Flinn said.
Flinn said it’s the improved special teams that have paved the way for Villanova to three successive season of 7-4, 10-3 and 13-1 records.
Scarnecchia said when Villanova was recruiting him, Canfield High graduate Angelo Babbaro said he enjoyed playing there.
“The education is great and we’re playing for the national title; it’s the best of both worlds,” Scarnecchia said.
Despite playing hurt (turf toe), Babbaro has emerged as one of the top running threats for the Wildcats.
“He’s got to the point, he’s the top tailback,” Flinn said.
“He’s a downhill runner. His speed has transferred from high school to college.”
This year Babbaro has 59 carries for 406 yards (6.7 average) and six touchdowns.
Babbaro enjoyed his first 100-yard rushing game of the year in a 46-7 victory over New Hampshire in the playoff semifinals.
In that game, he ran 13 times for 148 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Also on the Villanova team is defensive back Vince Peterson (Howland High) who will not dress for the championship game.
“Vince is a victim of tough [defensive] secondary competition,” Flinn said.
“He’s a young player who will be getting better.”
Scarnecchia said he will have several family members and friends in attendance Friday night, including a brother who played at Mooney a few years ahead of him.
“I told my brother it’s just like going to the state but it’s all 50 of them,” Scarnecchia said.
Still, the second-seeded Wildcats must face the top-seeded and undefeated Montana team.
“If we do it Friday, I can be a part of a team that won the national title,” Scarnecchia said. “It’s amazing. If we play the way we can play, everything will fall into place.”