Villanova's heartbreaking last-second loss to James Madison, a Colonial Athletic Association rival, happened six weeks ago, but the memories are still fresh for Wildcats strong safety Darrel Young.

"I really felt like they stole the game, and stole the conference championship," Young said of the Dukes yesterday. "I felt in my stomach that we were going to play them again. But when it happened, I felt like we lost everything. Now we have a second chance, and I think it will be to our advantage."

The Dukes won the Oct. 25 game at Villanova Stadium on a 35-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the last play.

But the Wildcats didn't let the 23-19 defeat spoil their season, and will carry a five-game winning streak into today's rematch in the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

"Guys were in the locker room sobbing, crying," Villanova coach Andy Talley recalled. "It was similar to any funeral or wake that you've been to. But the redeeming thing about this game was nobody died; we were still alive.

"We had a chance to be where we are, and look where we are. We have a second chance at life."

Despite the loss to James Madison (11-1) and their 0-5 road record in the playoffs, the Wildcats go into the game in Harrisonburg, Va., confident after last week's 55-28 first-round pasting of Colgate at home.

Villanova (10-2) rushed for a season high of 386 yards, and could use a similar performance today to keep the ball away from the Dukes' high-powered offense. It is led by quarterback Rodney Landers, one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given to the outstanding player in the subdivision.

Landers, a senior, has rushed for 1,543 yards and 15 touchdowns, and averages nearly 7 yards per carry. He accounted for 133 rushing yards and 184 passing yards while throwing for three touchdowns in the first game against Villanova.

"He's a good quarterback," Young said. "He's the type of player that can see one thing on every play and take advantage of it. We know we have to do our jobs to stop him. That's something the coaches have emphasized all week - don't try to do too much, just do our jobs."

The Wildcats rank 11th nationally in running with nearly 225 yards per game behind 1,000-yard rusher Aaron Ball, but the Dukes are fourth with 284 yards.

Moreover, James Madison has been efficient in scoring, standing second in the nation with a 39.7-point average, and has one of the nation's top return men in junior Scotty McGee, who has four touchdowns on returns.

Young expects to play today, one week after a frightening accident on the opening kickoff, which the Wildcats' Matt Szczur returned for a touchdown.

Young was laid out on the field for 17 minutes, fearing the worst. The diagnosis was a sprained neck, and he returned to practice Thursday.

"I was really scared," Young said. "I wasn't sure what happened. I don't think I felt anything for a good 30 seconds. But I'm feeling better. Just being able to walk again is a good thing."

Young said the Wildcats "want to go out and show the world" that their first game against the Dukes was a fluke. He said he and his teammates were glad to have another chance at them, and Talley agreed.

"I think they feel like the ring that we so much have been searching for was taken from them that day," Talley said. "So the only ring we have a chance to go after now is a national-championship ring, so let's go. That's what we're trying to do."

Villanova at James Madison

Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal.

Today at 3:30 p.m., Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Va.

Radio:

ESPN-AM (950).

TV:

The game is available to Comcast digital cable customers on 6ABC-Plus, Channel 245.

Records:

Villanova, 10-2, ranked No. 6 in the FCS; James Madison, 11-1, ranked No. 1.

Coaches:

Villanova, Andy Talley (24th season, 165-100-1); James Madison, Mickey Matthews (10th season, 75-45).

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.