Villanova wins first ever national title with 23-21 win over Montana

Nathan McGann

Christmas came early for the No. 2-seeded Wildcats as they defeated top-seeded Montana 23-21 for the program’s first ever national championship. Junior wide receiver Matt Szczur, who carried Villanova to victory against William and Mary, did much of the same against the Grizzlies and was named Most Outstanding Player. The all-American wide out finished with 270 all-purpose yards, 159 rushing yards and 68 yards receiving. He had two rushing touchdowns.

“I didn’t think I’d break as much as I did,” Szczur said.

The game was a tale of two very different halves for Villanova. The first half was controlled by the Grizzlies. After botching a field goal attempt on their opening drive, the Grizzlies stuck to the combination of junior quarterback Andrew Selle and senior wide receiver Marc Mariani. Selle went to Mariani nine times in the first two quarters for a total of 178 yards and a touchdown. The Wildcats defense had no answer and Montana jumped out to an early 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

The Villanova offense finally put the ball in the end zone thanks to Szczur’s first of two touchdowns. Nick Yako’s extra point attempt was wide left and Villanova shortened the deficit to 14-9, giving the team some momentum heading into halftime.

The second half team looked more like the Wildcats that had rushed over teams all season. Chris Whitney ran for a touchdown in their first drive of the third quarter while Szczur added his second touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Villanova had scored 20 unanswered points to jump out to a 23-14 lead. It was all the team needed.

Villanova’s defense in the second half shut down Selle’s favorite target, Mariani, and Montana made a desperation move in returning to the run game. The Wildcat’s, who boast the No. 3-ranked rushing defense, allowed only 60 yards on the ground and Chase Reynolds, Montana’s star running back and Walter Payton award finalist, finished with only 64 yards rushing.

The Grizzlies, in a last ditch attempt for a victory, scored a quick touchdown with only a minute remaining on a 53-yard pass to Jabin Sambrano bringing the score to 23-21. But the onside kick went out of bounds and the star of the evening, Szczur, converted for a first down allowing Villanova the chance to run out the clock.

“If I die here winning the national championship, that’s a pretty good death,” said a candid Andy Talley after the game. “That tells you how much this means to me.”