From Ashes To Glory For Villanova
Villanova has risen from a wrecked season to reach the NCAA Division I Football Championship semifinals, with only Eastern Washington standing in the way of a return trip to the FCS title game
By Sam Partridge
College Sporting News
When the Villanova Wildcats walked off the field on November 13th, it was clear that their national title defense was nearing the end.
In a matchup with a fellow CAA rival also clinging to playoff hopes, Andy Talley's squad had finished on the short end of a 3rd 31-24 decision to UNH and fell to 6-4, right on the edge of playoff contention and facing a must-win game on the road at Delaware to salvage the season.
As Talley discussed things in the post-game press conference, the team just seemed to lack a certain emotion and wasn't able to pull out wins when they needed them.
The real question, though, was what was missing more, emotion or Matt Szczur?
Given the star Wildcat's uncertain outlook for the season finale, it was likely that the FCS world wouldn't get an answer.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to basketball season on the Main Line.
With Cubs scouts in attendance to watch over their prized draft pick, Szczur returned to the Villanova lineup and brought enough of a lift for Talley & company to knock off the Blue Hens, 28-21, in overtime.
The next day, Villanova got a double dose of good news. It wasn't a surprise that the slection committee put the Wildcats in the field, but getting a bye to the round of 16 was a welcome bit of news for the team and its recovering star.
Since making the trip to Nacogdoches, TX and falling behind Stephen F. Austin, 24-14, it's been clear sailing for the Wildcats, as they scored the last 40 points to defeat their Southland conference opponent and then rolled over No. 1 seeded and three-time national champion Appalachian State, 42-24.
The latter victory, peppered as it was with five different TDs from Szczur, firmly established the Wildcats as back to full strength and a big-time threat to repeat as national champions.
The only thing standing in their way is a third road trip, this time to the FCS outpost of Cheney, WA, and a trip to the red turf of Eastern Washington.
However, this time the Wildcats get a break with the shoe being on the proverbial other foot.
Or off the other foot, which may be more applicable, with the news that star Eagles running back Taiwan Jones sustained a broken foot in EWU's quarterfinal overtime win over North Dakota State (38-31).
In a matchup with a team that seems to have regained it's swagger, the absence of a key player of this magnitude may be too much for the Eagles to handle.
Jones was coming off of a career-high of 230 yards in the win over the Bison and coach Beau Baldwin will have to find a way to plug the hole so that his team can generate enough offense to keep up with the Wildcats revitalized high-octane attack.
It's expected to be in the low to mid-20s on Friday night in Cheney, but this Wildcat team played in similar conditions in last year's FCS semifinals when they defeated William & Mary, 14-13.
While the home crowd and the red turf at the Inferno have helped the Eagles to an undefeated home record this year, the experience of the Wildcats, a healthy Matt Szczur and an injured Taiwan Jones will be too much for Eastern Washington to overcome. Expect three TDs from the little emperor and a solid effort from the Wildcat defense will send Andy Talley & company to Frisco, Tx. to defend their national title.
Villanova 30, Eastern Washington 17.