FCS title named Game of the Year


 Another school year is ending, and another year of Villanova athletics has come and gone. Our student-athletes gave us plenty to cheer about this school year: Championships in football and women’s cross-country, along with a men’s basketball squad that spent its entire season ranked among the Top 10 teams in the nation were just a few of the most exciting storylines.

The football team and the women’s cross-country squad both hung banners and achieved the highest level of success in their respective sports — how can one be better than the other?

To determine the best game of the year, three things need to be considered. The first thing to consider is the stage on which the game is played. There are bound to be several thrilling contests throughout a season, but when a championship is on the line, the competition is taken to a whole new level. Secondly, there must be a combination of outstanding individual performances with an overall success of the team. And thirdly, the outcome must be favorable — it doesn’t really matter how good the battle is if the bad guys win.

With these three qualifications considered, the game that stands out from the field of worthy candidates has to be the football team’s triumph over Montana in the Division I National Championship Game. After 25 years of running the show for the Wildcats, Head Coach Andy Talley was finally able to put together a championship season, and its finale was a memorable battle in Tennessee that had every element needed to name it the Game of the Year. 

The stage was like no other: a snowy field in Chattanooga in front of more than 14,000 fans, plus anyone who happened to be watching ESPN2 that night. The stakes were also as high as possible, with a national title on the line. The Wildcats, who had lost only one game all season, were on the largest stage they had ever been on in the history of the program, and they were up against the toughest foe they had seen all year: the undefeated Montana Grizzlies. 

The individual performance that stood out more than any other was obvious, as junior wide receiver Matt Szczur, who had carried Villanova on his back more than once throughout the season, rushed for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns. Szczur added another 100 yards via receiving and kick returns and did it all for the Wildcats. His individual success was amazing, but the most important aspect of it was not found in the numbers — it was the success of his team.

The outcome was everything Villanova could have hoped for and more, but the final score, Wildcats 23, Grizzlies 21, was not the only thing that made the game the best of the year. Rather, it was how they got there: Overcoming a 14-3 deficit, Villanova took the lead late in the third quarter and built a nine-point cushion. 

However, the Grizzlies made things interesting at the end, scoring with just over a minute left in the game to put the pressure on the Wildcats to field an onside kick. Villanova held on, however, and victory in the school’s best athletic contest of the year was theirs. 

“If I died here winning the national championship,” Talley, who had undergone heart tests just days before, told the Associated Press after the victory, “that would be a pretty good death. Does that tell you how much it means to me?”