Come Saturday at noon, Appalachian State fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium may have to excuse Marquis Kirkland.
The Villanova senior linebacker may get emotional before the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal against the Mountaineers in Boone, N.C.
"Our season is not going to end down there," Kirkland said. "We sent our seniors out last season with a national championship. We want our senior year to end like theirs did."
Since this game showcases two FCS powerhouses, the 6-foot, 240-pounder realizes the winner will basically become the overwhelming favorite to nab the championship.
Appalachian State (10-2) has shown glimpses of the Mountaineer squads that won an unprecedented three consecutive FCS titles in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Finally healthy, Villanova (8-4) resembles a team that was picked in the preseason to win a second consecutive title.
"We think we can beat anybody in the country," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "We really do. We play in the toughest league [Colonial Athletic Association] in the country. We played everybody there is to play. We played a I-A team [Temple]. So I really feel like we are good."
A lot of Talley's confidence comes from having a ball-hawking, hard-hitting playmaker in Kirkland.
One season removed from a nagging high-ankle sprain, the native of Syracuse, N.Y., along with senior outside linebacker Terence Thomas, is a leader of the Wildcats' defense.
Kirkland, a first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association selection, leads Villanova in total tackles (88), solo stops (45), tackles for a loss (12), and sacks (41/2), and is tied with safety John Dempsey for the team lead in fumble recoveries (two).
He also has two interceptions, with his second coming in last weekend's 54-24, second-round victory over Stephen F. Austin.
For his career, Kirkland has 252 tackles.
"Marquis Kirkland is one tough, ornery linebacker," Talley said. " . . . He and Terry Thomas, they are hellacious hitters. They can knock you out. I love Marquis Kirkland. He's all football player. He really is."
Whitney feels fine. Senior quarterback Chris Whitney will get the start Saturday. The 6-2, 230-pounder had his bell rung late in last week's victory. Test results showed that the former St. Joseph's Prep standout did not suffer a concussion.
Whitney has been a mainstay this season despite being hampered by turf toe, disc problems in his back, and soreness in both knees.
"Probably a lesser kid wouldn't be playing a whole lot right now," Talley said. "But he's managed to play through everything he's had. He's our horse."
Villanova at Appalachian State
NCAA Division I quarterfinal
Saturday at noon, Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C.
TV/Radio: ESPN/ESPN-AM (950)
Records: Villanova, 8-4, ranked 10th nationally; Appalachian State, 10-2, ranked second.
Coaches: Villanova, Andy Talley (26th season, 187-106-1); Appalachian State, Jerry Moore (22d season, 199-78).
Series: First meeting.
Villanova update: The Wildcats are making their third consecutive and fifth overall appearance in the NCAA Division I quarterfinals. Look for wideout Matt Szczur to play a major role. In his second game back from a left high-ankle sprain, the senior had a career-high 11 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown in last week's 54-24 second-round victory over Stephen F. Austin. Szczur also rushed nine times for 68 yards. The Wildcats are 1-6 on the road in the playoffs.
Appalachian State update: Though ranked second nationally, the Mountaineers were awarded the top overall seed in the playoffs. Appalachian State boasts a Walter Payton Award finalist in quarterback DeAndre Presley. The Southern Conference offensive player of the year completed 216 of 347 passes (62 percent) for 2,738 yards and 21 touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. The junior has compiled 1,444 yards and 21 touchdowns on 233 carries. He rushed for a career-high 264 yards on just 16 carries in last week's 42-14, second-round victory over Western Illinois. - Keith Pompey