The top seven local college football games of 2009
A touchdown and an extra point's worth of the season's best gridiron action.
Having gone through my top college football games of the calendar year, I figure it's only right to do a football list. I'm sure you won't like this one much either. And I made it harder for myself by picking only seven games instead of ten.
Why seven? For two reasons. First, there aren't as many football games in a year as there are basketball games. And second, it allows me to say I picked a touchdown's worth of matchups and an extra point at the end.
(Which should give you a pretty big hint about what's at the top.)
Also unlike the basketball list, I'm leaving Penn State out this time. That's in large part because the Nittany Lions lost their two biggest games of the season, and the Rose Bowl was a really long time ago. Yes, it took place in this calendar year, but Penn State lost that game too.
So here's the list. You may fire when ready.
7. October 3: Ursinus 55, Gettysburg 50
I could have put a number of other games in this slot, especially Penn's overtime win at Brown and Villanova's playoff semifinal against William & Mary.
But if you'd told me on the morning of October 7 that an Ursinus football result would bring out the commenters, I'd have called you crazy.
It turns out that Bears quarterback Justin Decristofaro is the crazy one, as we learned at that day's local college footbal coaches luncheon.
Four days before the weekly confab, Decristofaro threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns in the Bears' win. The Jenkintown native and Father Judge grad also ran for 70 yards and another score.
The Bears didn't punt at all in the game, made 35 first downs and totaled 624 yards of offense. Gettysburg punted once, made 29 first downs and totaled 694 yards.
That kind of performance is worth a spot on this list.
6. October 17: Villanova 21, Richmond 20
We knew for most of the season that Villanova was more than just pretty good. But the Wildcats' trip to No. 1-ranked Richmond was their biggest test of the regular season.
The Spiders had a 20-13 lead with 1:06 remaining in their Homecoming game, and were on the verge of getting revenge for Villanova's win on the Main Line a year earlier.
But on 4th and 11, Brandyn Harvey made a spectacular catch at the eight-yard line of a Chris Whitney pass that appeared to be overthrown, and ran to the end zone for a touchdown.
After Nick Yako's extra point gave 'Nova the lead, Richmond had one last chance to get the win. But Andrew Howard missed a 35-yard field goal with five seconds left and the Wildcats ran off winners.
It might not have been divine intervention, but it was definitely a signature win.
5. October 31: Temple 27, Navy 24
Nobody will remember that Midshipmen quarterback Ricky Dobbs didn't play. They will remember that the Owls got a vote in the AP Top 25 poll because of this win.
It was Temple's sixth straight win in a streak of nine, and it made the Owls bowl-eligible. It was also another performance by sensational freshman running back Bernard Pierce. The Glen Mills native capped off a 267-yard haul by scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 41-yard dash with 1:32 left in the game.
A week later, Navy beat Notre Dame in South Bend. Dobbs played in that game, but it still made Temple's win look even better. And it put the Owls' loss to Villanova even farther in the rear-view mirror. Speaking of which...
4. September 3: Villanova 27, Temple 24
This game has to be here, doesn't it? At the time, we weren't even sure it was an upset. Temple had the edge in size, but Villanova's triple-option did just enough to outfox the Owls' defense.
And when Nick Yako kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired, the Villanova contingent at Lincoln Financial Field erupted as if they'd just won a Big 5 game.
The Temple side of the stadium was silent. But who knew on that night where the Owls would go from there?
3. November 14: Penn 17, Harvard 7
When Al Bagnoli's Quakers were at their peak at the beginning of this decade, they were defined by two things: a gunslinging offense and a swagger built on winning three Ivy League titles in four years.
After their 2003 championship, though, the wheels came off. Kyle Ambrogi's suicide was followed by Derek Zoch's kicking follies, and each loss seemed to compound the others.
Slowly, though, this year's Penn squad built up its confidence. Not to the level where it had been, but it was still noticeable. It paid off when the Quakers won at Brown, snapping a five-year losing streak to the Bears and a six-year drought without an overtime victory.
Then came the biggest challenge of all: a trip to Harvard Stadium to play the reigning champion Crimson for the Ivy League title. Both teams were undefeated in conference play, but the home side knew how to get over the top.
The visitors, however, had an ace up their sleeve. Zach Heller, Jake Lewko and the nation's stingiest defense wrought havoc on Harvard's offensive line, sacking Crimson quarterback Collier Winters three times. Penn quarterback Kyle Olson threw for a touchdown pass and ran for another, and the Quakers finally returned to the top of the mountain.
2. December 18: Villanova 23, Montana 21
For all its athletic success, Villanova hasn't won that many national championships. This was its biggest since the biggest one of all in 1985.
Does it mean 'Nova will become a football school? No, but winning the title gave two people some much-deserved time in the spotlight.
Andy Talley has been on the Main Line for 24 years now, and has slowly built the Wildcats into a I-AA powerhouse. Matt Szczur is a tremendous athlete and a person of impressively high character, as we learned when he announced he would be donating his bone marrow in January to save a younmg girl's life.
Now we hear from a loud segment of Wildcats fans who want Talley's program to join the rest of Villanova's teams in the Big East. But the CAA strikes me as exactly the right place to be.
That's not just because Villanova didn't come close to selling out its playoff games. Playing in the CAA gives the Wildcats a fair share of local and national attention, but without having to spend the absurd amounts of money it takes to swim in the BCS sea.
To be even more blunt about it, you get attention by winning games - especially in a region that focuses much more on professional sports. Philadelphia's college football teams generated more buzz and got more coverage than ever this year because they won.
Would that be the case if Villanova and/or Temple played in the Big East? I doubt it. There's too much history for me to think it would be that easy for either program to achieve quick success in a BCS conference.
And above all, there's no way the Wildcats would have a national championship trophy in the cabinet. Think about that next time Cincinnati comes to the Pavilion.
1. December 29: Temple vs. UCLA
Yes, Villanova's national championhip is a big deal. But this is bigger.
This is the crowning achievment of a program that was left for dead five years ago, destined for I-AA or complete termination. As fun as it is to claim that I-AA football has a true national champion, Temple football's first bowl game in 30 years is a genuine national story.
It would be so no matter which team was across the field. But playing UCLA brings a definite sense of glamor to the occasion.
And even though the EagleBank Bowl has no tie-in with the MAC, this is the game that Temple's fans and administration wanted. It's much easier to drive two hours to DC than it is to fly to Detroit, Toronto or Mobile, Alabama.
For years, the best memory I had of Temple football was when they scored two touchdowns in a minute against Miami in 2002. And I didn't even see them, because I left Franklin Field at the end of the first quarter with the Owls trailing 28-0.
Now Temple gets to create some new memories. Maybe some of you will end up in RFK Stadium's famous "bouncing bleachers," with the metal base that literally shakes when you jump up and down. Or maybe you'll visit Ben's Chili Bowl afterwards, and sample the fare at Bill Cosby's favorite restaurant (and mine too).
As you read this, I'm en route to Washington to bring you live coverage of the game. I'll talk to you in a few hours.