Wildcats host Red Flash hoping to extend Talley
(STATS) – Andy Talley has been Villanova's coach for a very, very long time. And while he's prepared to finally walk away, he surely wouldn't mind another week in the position he's held since the Reagan administration.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats made sure their coach would stick around a little longer with a win in their season finale and now face Northeast Conference champion Saint Francis on Saturday at Villanova Stadium in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Talley announced in January that his 32nd season at the helm of the Wildcats would be his last. He has become the winningest coach in school history since taking over the program in 1985, guiding Villanova to 12 playoff appearances, six conference titles and the 2009 national championship.
Whether Talley's tenure would continue was in doubt before the Wildcats (8-3) secured a postseason spot with a 41-10 win at Delaware on Saturday. They finished tied with New Hampshire for second in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Playing at home should provide a jolt of confidence for Villanova, which won its first four home games this season before a 20-7 loss to No. 5 James Madison on Nov. 12. Talley and the Wildcats are 8-2 on their own field in the playoffs, including 5-0 in openers.
“At some point in the Delaware game, I got emotional on the sideline,” Talley said. “That was the only time. I think I'm over that. To be home is a comfort zone for us. If we're fortunate enough to get past these guys, I've been on the road against tough teams in the playoffs before. I know what we're in for.”
A stout and physical defense has been the calling card for Villanova all season, ranking third in the FCS in average yards (265.1) and points (14.9) allowed per game. That unit is anchored by senior defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon and junior safety Rob Rolle.
Kpassagnon was named the CAA's Defensive Player of the Year after finishing 12th in the FCS with 19 tackles for loss and tied for 21st with 8 1/2 sacks. Rolle led the league with six interceptions and was First Team All-CAA.
Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk tied a career high with four touchdown passes in the win over Delaware, one week after he threw four picks in the loss to JMU. The Wildcats, though, prefer to control opponents behind the rushing of Bednarczyk and running backs Aaron Forbes (745 yards), Javon White and Matt Gudzak.
Saint Francis (7-4) is something of an unknown to Villanova, though the teams share two common opponents this season. The Red Flash lost to CAA teams Albany and Towson after leading both games at the half, while the Wildcats posted home wins over both.
“They played toe-to-toe with Towson, toe-to-toe with Albany. They played really well in (a loss at) Montana,” Talley said. “They won't be awed against Villanova. They're very, very battle-tested.”
Saint Francis tied Duquesne for the regular-season NEC title and earned the league's automatic bid with a 14-10 win over the Dukes during the season. This is the first postseason appearance in program history for the Red Flash, who won six straight games before closing with a 31-24 loss at Wagner.
“It's very exciting,” Saint Francis coach Chris Villarrial said. “It's been great to see the progress we've made. A lot of work to do still. We have to enjoy the moment. Villanova is a very good football team. We're going to have our hands full. We're going to have to play an errorless game and go down and play our type of game.”
There is some special talent on Saint Francis, evident by its NEC-high eight players on the all-conference first team. Standout free safety/kickoff returner Lorenzo Jerome is the first player in conference history to earn First Team All-NEC four straight years. He's a four-time first-team selection as a defensive back and three-time pick as a returner.
Jerome, though, is playing with a partially torn MCL and his explosiveness could be limited.
Also in the special category is sophomore wide receiver Kamron Lewis, who was named the NEC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the FCS in receiving yards (1,349) and ranking in the top 20 in touchdown catches (10) and receptions (69).
Junior running back Marcus Bagley was also a First Team All-NEC honoree and acts as a nice counterpart to Lewis' downfield ability. Bagley ranks 29th in the FCS and second in the NEC with 868 rushing yards while adding 12 catches for 109 yards.
The winner plays at No. 8 seed South Dakota State (8-3) in the second round Dec. 3.