Dec. 18, 2009
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Junior wide receiver Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) rushed for a career-high 159 yards and carried No. 2 seed Villanova (14-1) to its first national championship on Friday night in front of 14,328 at Finley Stadium. The Wildcats knocked off No. 1 seed and undefeated Montana (14-1) to win a national title as head coach Andy Talley reached the pinnacle of college football in his 25th season on the Main Line. Szczur racked up 270 all-purpose yards en route to being named the championship game's Most Outstanding Player.
This is the 18th national championship in University history for Villanova and the second in the last four weeks. Villanova won the women's cross country national title in Terre Haute, Ind. last month.
"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."
Villanova trailed 14-3 midway through the second quarter before putting the ball in the hands of Szczur and junior quarterback Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa.). Szczur ran for a five-yard touchdown with 3:34 left before halftime and later accounted for the winning margin with a three-yard touchdown run at the 11:04 mark of the fourth period. Whitney finished with 102 yards on 16 carries while also completing 10-of-13 passes for 142 yards with one score and one interception.
Along the way to winning the championship, the Wildcats totaled 493 yards of total offense. Early in the contest the team set a new single season record for total offense in a season, adding to records already established for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a season. Whitney finishes the season with 991 rushing yards, more than double his own previous record for the most rushing yards in a season by a Villanova quarterback. The Wildcats held the ball for nearly 20 minutes after halftime after Montana had a narrow edge in controlling the ball in the first half.
"I give our offensive line all the credit in the world," Whitney said. "They allowed me to run the option. I new that I wouldn't be able to hand off and then block the defensive end, so we had to get into the alley. Once we did that, one guy couldn't cover both me and Szczur. It was 2-on-1 at that point once we got into the alley."
Whitney hit senior tight end Chris Farmer (Philadelphia, Pa.) for a three-yard score with 5:27 left in the third period to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 16-14. Villanova had given up a lead just two times all season long and didn't relinquish their advantage in the biggest game in the century-plus history of the program.
A game of this magnitude was never going to end without a great charge by the Grizzlies in the waning moments. Montana quarterback Andrew Selle completed a 53-yard touchdown pass to Jabin Sambrano with 1:07 to play to pull the Grizzlies to within just two points. Montana was unable to convert an onside kick, however, as the attempt went out of bounds. The Wildcats were then able to run out the clock and finish off their championship run with their ninth consecutive victory.
"Obviously you saw probably one of the better championship games that has been played," Talley said. "Two really good teams played flat out. We have so much respect for Montana. They played exactly how we thought they would. We have a very special player in Matt Szczur and he seized the opportunity and did a fantastic job for us. He made some big plays and when all was said and done our defense came up with stops."
The game was a tale of two halves on the offensive end for the Grizzlies, who scored on a 24-yard touchdown reception by Marc Mariani at the 3:15 mark of the first quarter and then stretched the lead to double digits on a four-yard scoring reception by Sambrano with 6:48 to play in the second period. Mariani caught nine passes for 178 yards in the first half but did not catch a pass in the second half.
Villanova scored first in the game on a 23-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Nick Yako (Cleveland, Ohio) with 5:12 left in the opening period. Yako made six of his last seven field goal tries of the season and his lone attempt tonight gave the Wildcats a brief 3-0 lead before Montana roared back with 14 unanswered points.
"Montana did a great job in the first half and we had trouble catching up to them," Talley said. "Their quarterback was 17-of-23 at halftime and we just hoped he would come back to earth. We didn't change anything at halftime. The locker room was very calm. Our defense gave us a chance to have more control of the football in the second half. The one critical decision we made was to go for it on fourth down. The reason we did that was because in these playoffs we have pretty much played flat out. We had momentum and good things were happening and we just wanted to keep riding that. Chris Whitney had a phenomenal second half and Matt Szczur showed that he is the best player in our program since Brian Westbrook.
After Szczur recorded the first touchdown of the night for the Wildcats in the second quarter, Yako missed an extra point attempt wide left. It was the first and only miss of the season for Yako, who set individual and team single-season records in his first collegiate campaign for extra points (kicking) made and attempted.