Every championship journey starts somewhere. For Villanova, it happened in an Ocean City, New Jersey beach house when the eventual national champs took a players’ only trip in late July to escape Main Line for one night and two days.
This was supposed to be a team bonding getaway, but things quickly got competitive when a football game broke out on the beach. There’s still contention over who won and exactly how the end of the game went down.
This is the story of the beach football game that nearly tore Villanova’s championship season apart before it started.
What we know for sure
Jalen Brunson quarterbacked one team. Omari Spellman quarterbacked the other.
Team Spellman had Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman, Phil Booth, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Team Brunson’s roster had everyone else.
It depends who you ask.
Team Brunson claimed victory
Senior walk-on Tom Leibug was the first person to tell me about the game. He was on Team Brunson and claimed victory. “Jalen didn’t throw me the ball a couple times when I was open, so I was mad about that. But we won.”
Team Spellman also claimed victory
Eric Paschall immediately disputed Team Brunson’s purported win.
“They tried to cheat us, but we ended up winning that game.”
OK, what happened here?
I followed up with Dylan Painter for more details.
“I was on Jalen’s team,” Painter said. “It came down to the last play. My team should have won. The other team quit before the last play.”
“Nobody actually won,” Painter continued. “It was tied. There was a pass in the end zone and we called pass interference because our guy got mauled. Jalen throws it into the end zone, tie game, fourth down, literally the last play. The guy mauls our receiver, the pass goes incomplete, but we call pass interference so we get another play. Because it was definitely pass interference. The other team is like nah, nah, nah, that’s BS. They run off the field and into the house, so it was over.”
Team Spellman fights back
Omari Spellman, quarterback of Team Spellman, issued the following statement to SB Nation on the beach football game controversy after Villanova’s national championship game victory over Michigan.
Audio clip above, transcript below:
SB Nation: So you’re the quarterback in this beach football game. You’re going against Brunson.
Spellman: You were there? Did you see that?
SB Nation: I got sources on the ground.
Spellman: We won the game.
SB Nation: Well I’m hearing different .....
Spellman: We won the game.
SB Nation: That not what I heard, man.
Spellman: We won the game 5-3. We scored five tuddies, they scored three.
SB Nation: I heard there was a controversial pass interference call on a fourth down play.
Spellman: No. We won the game. Bro, I was throwing darts.
SB Nation: Tell me what happened in that game.
Spellman: First of all, I had the greatest beach football receiver of all time, Mikal Bridges. He was catching everything. We won 5-3. I remember the game.
SB Nation: Team Brunson is saying Team Brunson won. They said Brunson lobbed one up in the end zone on fourth down ....
Spellman: AND IT GOT PICKED OFF. I’M NOT HEARING IT.
SB Nation: They said it was pass interference.
Spellman: PICKED OFF.
SB Nation: And Team Spellman walked off the beach in disgust!
Spellman: It got picked off and we was up 5-3. We picked it off and was like, that’s game, walked off. He’s lying. We won the game.
Mikal Bridges goes to bat for Team Spellman
SB Nation: We’re talking about the only topic that matters. Beach football in the preseason.
Bridges: Oh, my goodness.
Phil Booth: What happened?
Bridges: He’s talking about the joint at Ocean City.
SB Nation: We’re talking about the joint at Ocean City.
SB Nation: Brunson is the QB on one team, Spellman is the QB on the other team.
Bridges: You wanna know who was on that team?
SB Nation: No one can agree on who won. Team Brunson said Team Brunson won.
Bridges: Oh, my God.
SB Nation: Spellman just told me Team Spellman won, 5-3. He said Mikal Bridges is the Randy Moss of beach football wide receivers. He’s the best beach football wide out he’s ever seen.
Bridges: Of course. I’m a great wide out. Team Omari. He was our quarterback. It was me, him, Phil, Eric, Dada. You remember Dada dropped that one joint?
Bridges: We won. We won at the end. We won by a touchdown.
SB Nation: I heard there was a controversial pass interference call. That Brunson lobbed it up to the end zone ....
Bridges: We got the call. We called it. We went back to review it.
SB Nation: You guys went to the monitors?
Bridges: Yeah. And it was our ball. And we finished off the joint. They’re gonna hate, though. It’s fine.
SB Nation: I don’t care about the basketball. I care about the beach football.
Bridges: That’s what I care about, too.
Jalen Brunson gets the last word
Villanova’s locker room was being closed. As reporters were being pushed out the door, one last question was issued to Brunson.
SB Nation: Who won the football game?
SB Nation: The Ocean City football game between your team and Spellman’s team?
Brunson: I’ll tell you what. We didn’t lose.
It’s remarkable that Villanova was able to overcome so much internal strife to win the national championship. Clearly, this was a fractured team following the Ocean City beach football game.
Did the game really end in a tie? Are the accusations of cheating valid? Do we believe Team Spellman saying they won by two (or one)?
We may never know. Villanova might have a second national championship in three years, but beach football is really what matters.
Update: Villanova addressed the beach football controversy on Twitter, with Brunson admitting defeat:
Phil Booth followed:
Take the L and keep it pushing! Lol we got the win— Phil Booth (@Philb_5) April 4, 2018