CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The tournament starts with 16 teams. All of them have the same dream, some more realistic than others.

Last night at 20,668-seat Finley Stadium, the top two seeds met for the ultimate prize. As it probably should be, yet so often isn't.

Related stories

One program, trying to finish as the first unbeaten Football Championship Subdivision champion in 14 years, was going for its third title since 1995, in its seventh finals appearance.

The other had only made it as far as the semifinals once before.

Montana, last year's runner-up, was trying not to lose to a Colonial Athletic Association team for the third time in a title game since 2004.

A quarter-century after football resurfaced at Villanova - it was called Division I-AA then - the Wildcats were trying to become the fourth CAA team since 2003 to hoist the trophy.

It already had been quite a year on the Main Line. There was a Final Four appearance in April, and a women's cross-country title last month.

And now, a special season will go down as a historic one.

Villanova 23, Montana 21.

So how's that for realism?

"It's Chattanooga, baby, at least for a night," coach Andy Talley said of a journey that started with a win over Temple nearly 4 months ago. "We're bringing it back to Philly. All we need are some cheesesteaks and hoagies."

Would you settle for a little barbecue?

"What can I tell you?" he continued. "We played a great second half . . . I think we've built something over 25 years that Villanova can put its arms around. The basketball program is great. But they can say we play pretty good football, too.

"This is just the cherry on top of the cake. It puts the pressure on Jay [Wright] now. I don't know if I really understand what it means yet. I just think we've been through a lot of wars to get where we are. And that stood out tonight."

The Wildcats (14-1), whose lone loss came in early October, left little doubt when it mattered most. Which means the Grizzlies (14-1) won't be the fourth FCS team to go undefeated.

There can be only one happily ever after ending. That's why it's forever.

Junior Matt Szczur, easily the Most Outstanding Player, was in tears as he held his plaque and hugged his family members and friends.

"I couldn't have written this any better," he finally said. "We never folded under pressure. That's huge for us. We knew we were going to win."

Even after they went in at the half trailing, 14-9? And they were probably fortunate to be that close. It was almost like last week's semifinal home win over William & Mary, when they turned a 10-0 halftime deficit into a 14-13 victory.

The Griz did make it a two-point game with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining, on a 53-yard pass from Andrew Selle to Jabin Sambrano, his second TD of the evening, capping a five-play, 92-yard drive. And they had three timeouts left.

The ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, giving the 'Cats the ball at the Montana 39. It took Szczur two carries to get the first down, and it was time to start fitting guys for their rings.

Szczur, who as unbelievable as it sounds might be an even better baseball player, finished with 270 all-purpose yards.

In the fourth quarter, the 'Cats only threw once. There was no need to go about it differently.

They went ahead for keeps, 15-14, on a 3-yard pass from Chris Whitney to tight end Chris Farmer, the first touchdown of Farmer's career. They went for one, to go up two, with 5:27 left in the third quarter. The 81-yard drive took 8 minutes.

The next time they got it, they scored again, going 95 yards in 10 plays, nine of them runs. Szczur got the final three, on a fourth-and-1, with just more than 11 minutes showing. For the second time in his career, he would rush for more than 100 yards (159 yards, 14 carries).

'Nova eventually took control of the line of scrimmage and the clock. And there wasn't a whole lot Montana could do about it. 'Nova was simply better when it absolutely had to be.

"I'm speechless," said Whitney, who also reached triple figures on the ground (16-102). "We dreamed about this at the beginning of the season. Once we stopped making mistakes, we knew our line would dominate. We just did what we do best.

"All year long, we've done whatever it takes. As a team we gave everything we had, every single time. We're going to cherish this."

After 30 minutes, Montana's Marc Mariani had nine catches for 178 yards. He wouldn't catch another.

At that point, Villanova already had committed its first turnover of the playoffs, Shawn Lesbock's interception at the goal line when Whitney overthrew an open Dorian Wells. The Wildcats wouldn't give it away again.

Later, Nick Yako would miss his first PAT of the season.

It wouldn't matter.

Did we mention that Szczur has now scored a TD in all six of his postseason games?

"This was our goal," safety John Dempsey said. "It felt like this was destiny. Now it's reality. All the work we put in, and we're finally here. We played our worst [half] of the year, and we just came out [after intermission] believing.

"We're the best Villanova team ever. It was a great year for Villanova, an amazing year for Villanova football."

It's the third time in two seasons, and second time this year, that the 'Cats beat a No. 1.

"It's exciting, it's fulfilling, it's everything," linebacker Osayi Osunde said. "It's the best feeling in the world. For 365 days we bled, we sweat, we cried, pushing ourselves to the limit. All for this. It can't get any better. I just want to stay in this moment the rest of my life. Only a select few get to experience it . . .

"It's legendary."