While many of major college football’s bowl games are decided by polls and sportswriter’s votes, one national championship, the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) title, is decided the good ole fashion way through a playoff bracket of 16 teams.
The culmination of the past three weeks worth of playoff games saw the top two seeds, Montana and Villanova, pitted against each other at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, TN. Ultimately, Villanova pulled the upset 23-21 over the top-seeded Grizzles.
Playing in the snow just a week ago, Montana came from behind on the legs of running back Chase Reynolds to beat a dangerous Appalachian State team at home. Montana’s offense, led by a trio of star players that included quarterback Andrew Selle (28 TD, 3043 yds), Reynolds (22 TD, 1503 yds), and receiver Marc Mariani (13 TD, 1495 yds), the Grizzles marched into Chattanooga undefeated and looking to avenge last years’ title game loss to Richmond.
Villanova, this year’s surprise team, capped a one-loss season on their way to Tennessee by posting big wins over Temple, Richmond, and William & Mary with the lone blemish on their schedule coming on the road at New Hampshire.
While Montana had a formidable offense, Villanova boasted one of the best weapons in college football in Matt Szczur, a running back by trade that also plays quarterback, wide receiver, and returns kicks.
Despite the location of the game and the soggy, 40 degree weather, 14,000+ fans turned out to watch the spectacle that featured more than 900 yards of offense.
The game quickly shaped up to be a battle of Montana’s passing attack against Villanova’s punishing ground game as both teams moved down the field creating scoring opportunities.
After an early Villanova field goal, Montana’s Selle connected with Mariani multiple times in the first half including a 24-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. Montana would put another score on the board before a late first half Wildcat score would end the first half 14-9.
While the Grizzles seemed to control the ball during the first half, the Wildcats seemed to be even more determined to rush the ball down the field with Szcur during the third quarter. For the game, Szcur would rack up 159 yards on 14 carries with 2 TDs en route to be named Most Outstanding Player of the Game.
Montana made a late come-back effort with a 53 yard touchdown pass to Jabin Sambrano, but a failed on-side kick and a Villanova first down iced the game and led to their first football championship since the program was revived in 1985.
For Villanova’s head coach Andy Talley, the championship caps his resume in his 25th year of coaching at Villanova. "It is hard to explain how much this means, not just to me, but to the entire program," Talley said.
"I had always been content having a great program, graduating our kids and winning enough games to keep my job. We have been close before but I knew this was a really good team that had a good chance to go all the way. For me, you don't get a chance to come through this on the national scene very often. It is extremely special,” Talley added on Villanova.com after the game.