Editor’s Note: This is another article in a continuing series of articles from past FCS championship games. This is the Dec. 18, 2009 game story as Villanova stopped Montana for the national title.
This story originally appeared on The Sports Network.
By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
CHATTANOOGA, TN. — Villanova coach Andy Talley contemplated death Friday night after the NCAA Division I Football Championship game.
But Talley wasn’t on a suicide watch after another agonizing loss in a big game. Instead, this veteran of 25 coaching seasons at Villanova was celebrating a 23-21 victory over Montana for the Football Championship Subdivision title.
“If I died here in Chattanooga, having won the national championship, that would be a pretty good death,” Talley said in a celebratory post-game press conference at Finley Stadium.
Top-seeded Montana (14-1) hoped to join Eastern Kentucky (1982), Georgia Southern (1989) and Marshall (1996) as the fourth team in FCS history to finish its season with a perfect record and a national championship, but the Grizzlies came up short against a Villanova avalanche over the final two- thirds of the game.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Villanova’s defense,” said Montana quarterback Andrew Selle, who completed 27-of-35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. “They definitely fought back hard. It’s just a few plays here or there. We would get something going, then get a little bit downfield and just halt.”
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats (14-1) beat Montana in a similar fashion to many of its other wins this season, dominating the Grizzlies on the ground and closing off the Montana attack in the second half with physical play on defense.
Villanova trailed 14-3 midway through the second quarter on the strength of touchdown passes from Selle to Marc Mariani and Jabin Sambrano.
Mariani was particularly troublesome for the Wildcats, scorching a unit that ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense for nine catches and 178 yards. But Mariani was shut out in the second half as Villanova went to more man-to-man coverage and started double-teaming the All-American receiver most of the time.
“They made some obvious halftime adjustments,” said Mariani. “They shifted their coverage and whatever they did obviously worked. I know I saw a lot more blue in the second half.”
Montana’s edge could have been bigger if not for a botched snap by Montana in the first period on a 32-yard field goal attempt from Brody McKnight.
But the tide began to turn from that point as Matt Szczur (14 carries, 159 yards rushing, four catches, 68 yards receiving, 270 all-purpose yards) capped off a seven-play, 66-yard drive with a five-yard scoring burst to make it a 14-9 game at the half.
Villanova’s defense held the Grizzlies to a three and out on the opening series of the second half, allowing the offense to take off again for a 13- play, 81-yard march that gave the Wildcats the lead for good at 16-14.
On third and goal from the three, Villanova quarterback Chris Whitney (10-of-13, 142 yards, one TD and one interception passing) found tight end Chris Farmer wide open in the corner of the end zone for the first touchdown of Farmer’s career.
Marquis Kirkland’s sack of Selle on third and 10 from the Villanova 42 killed another Montana possession and the Wildcats’ offensive line and execution on offense pushed the Grizzlies to the verge of extinction.
Starting at their own five after a Sean Wren punt hemmed them in, the Wildcats got out of trouble on Aaron Ball’s 19-yard scamper and Szczur’s 40-yard dash from wildcat formation five plays later put Villanova in scoring position again with a first down at the Montana 12.
The Wildcats were still a yard short when the drive reached fourth and one at the three, but Talley turned down the chance at an almost-sure field goal to go for the jugular.
“We’ve been playing these playoffs flat out and we knew we had to ride that crest and that’s what we did,” Talley said.
Szczur raced around the left side and into the end zone out of wildcat formation to give Villanova a 23-14 advantage with 11 minutes remaining.
“The offensive line came out and had a great second half,” said Szczur. “They gave me the opportunity to make the big plays.”
After a trade of possessions, Montana had one last shot at climbing back in the game and Selle’s floating, 53-yard scoring connection to Jabin Sambrano pulled the Grizzlies to within two points with 66 seconds on the clock.
But the hope of another Montana miracle finish ended there when McKnight’s onside kick attempt bounced out of bounds to give Villanova the ball. Szczur bounced 15 yards on two carries from the wildcat for a first down that gave Villanova the opportunity to run out the clock and claim its first national title in football.
“We had a chance to go 15-0 and complete a perfect season and we didn’t get it done,” said a disappointed Montana coach Bobby Hauck, who has come up short in the 2004, 2008 and now the 2009 title games. “Chattanooga has been a disaster for me, personally.”
Mariani said he was devastated to lose the national title again in his final college game.
“This hurts so bad to be sitting here two years in a row with this sick feeling,” Mariani explained. “We wanted a different ending, but sometimes stuff happens.”
Villanova piled up 351 yards on the ground to offset Montana’s 365 yards through the air and the Wildcats won the total offense battle 493-425. The Grizzlies struggled to just 60 yards rushing against the nation’s third-ranked run defense and Chase Reynolds was limited to 15 carries for 64 yards.
VU also controlled the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the fourth quarter to win the time of possession contest 33 1/2 minutes to 26 1/2.
The Wildcats became just the third private school to win an FCS crown, joining Furman (1988) and Richmond (2008). Villanova is also the first school to win an NCAA Division I men’s basketball (1985) and football championship, and the title was the 19th overall in the university’s athletic history.
“We’ve been close before,” reflected Talley. “I knew this was a really great team. You don’t get a chance to go through this type of game many times.”
After the press conference, Talley was met by Colonial Athletic Association director of football operations and longtime friend Chuck Boone.
Boone grabbed Talley’s wrist and began to check the veteran coach’s pulse.
“You still have one,” Boone announced to Talley.
On second thought, Talley wasn’t ready to die just yet.