The Wildcats whooped it up last night at Villanova Stadium after one of their most anticipated rematches.
For the first time in school history, Villanova is going to the Football Championship Subdivision championship game.
The second-ranked Wildcats secured that trip by defeating sixth-ranked William and Mary, 14-13, in last night's semifinal. The FCS final is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Villanova (13-1) will face the winner of today's 4 p.m. semifinal between Appalachian State and Montana in Missoula, Mont.
The Wildcats put up the decisive points with 10 minutes, 57 seconds remaining when quarterback Chris Whitney scored on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line and Nick Yako kicked the extra point. The touchdown was set up by a controversial catch by Brandyn Harvey for a first down at the 6-yard line. The pass originally was ruled incomplete, but that decision was overturned by an official review.
Advancing to the championship game "is hard to put into words. I'm speechless," Whitney said. "I'm hugging my mom and [teammates] Matt Szczur and John Dempsey. It's an awesome feeling."
With the win, Villanova set a school record for the most single-season victories. The Wildcats also swept the Tribe (11-3). Villanova took a 28-17 victory on Oct. 10.
As expected, the Tribe put up a tougher fight this time.
William and Mary came in with the nation's top-ranked rushing defense (52.9 yards per game) and second-ranked scoring defense (11.9 ppg.).
And through three quarters, the visitors held Villanova to seven points. But in the end, the Wildcats showed why they are one of the nation's top teams. After Whitney scored, the Tribe failed to make a first down on their next two possessions.
At the start, the Wildcats struggled. William and Mary held Villanova to two first downs and 70 yards in the first half. Four of the Wildcats' six first-half possessions ended in three-and-outs.
Unable to move the ball, the Wildcats did not produce a first-half touchdown for the first time since the season opener against Temple. Their consecutive-quarter scoring streak ended at 12.
William and Mary capitalized by taking a 10-0 halftime lead.
R.J. Archer completed a 98-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Dohse with 10:45 remaining in the second quarter. With a step on Wildcats cornerback Eric Loper, the wideout caught the ball at the William and Mary 35. After Loper slipped, Dohse streaked untouched down the sideline for the longest pass play in Tribe history.
It also marked the first time Villanova had trailed an opponent since the fourth quarter against Richmond on Nov. 7.
Brian Pate kicked a career-long 46-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
But just when things looked bleak, Szczur put Villanova back into the game.
The wideout, who was lined up in the backfield, took a direct snap. He took the off-tackle play to the left side of the line. After what ended as a 62-yard touchdown run, the Wildcats were down, 10-7, with 9:03 left in the third quarter.
"That was a huge momentum swing for the offense," Szczur said. "As soon as that touchdown went off, our whole offense started. We were able to move the ball."
But William and Mary answered on the ensuing drive. The key play came on fourth and 7 at the Villanova 35. Archer completed a 9-yard pass to Dohse near the sideline. Four plays later, Pate added a 40-yard field goal.
Appalachian State at Montana
When: Today at 4 p.m.
Where: Washington Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mt.
What: Football Championship Subdivision semifinal
Records: Appalachian State (11-2), ranked fifth in the FCS; Montana (13-0), ranked third.
Coaches: Appalachian State, Jerry Moore (20th season, 170-27); Montana, Bobby Hauck (seventh season, 79-16).
Series: Montana leads, 1-0, with a 19-16 overtime win in Missoula in an FCS semifinal game in 2000.
Appalachian State update: The Mountaineers are 3-2 in national semifinals. They have won their last three appearances (2005, 2006 and 2007). Appalachian State went on to win national titles those seasons. The Mountaineers are led by quarterback Armanti Edwards, a Walter Payton Award finalist.
Montana update: The Grizzlies look to make their second consecutive and seventh FCS championship appearance. Montana is 6-3 in semifinals and 5-1 at home. The Grizzlies' title hopes were in jeopardy when they trailed South Dakota State, 48-21, in the third quarter of the playoff opener. Montana went on to score 40 unanswered points to take a 61-48 victory. The Grizzlies followed that up by defeating Stephen F. Austin, 51-0, last week.
- Keith Pompey