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Villanova ready to make some noise in the playoffs

Wildcats, who have not had postseason success for years, open FCS play on Saturday against Liberty.

Villanova's Kevin Monangai and the rest of the Wildcats will look to stiff-arm opponents in the playoffs. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Kevin Monangai and the rest of the Wildcats will look to stiff-arm opponents in the playoffs. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)Read more

IN 2009 and '10, Villanova went 6-1 in the FCS playoffs, beating three No. 1 teams, two of them on the road and another at a neutral site in the 2009 national-title game.

The Wildcats have played once in the postseason since then, losing at Stony Brook in an NCAA opener 2 years ago.

Only two redshirt seniors, center Ross Hall and running back Austin Medley, were on the 2010 team.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Wildcats (10-2), who had an opening bye, host Liberty (9-4) in the second round. This is where they expected to be in August. But they just didn't want to get here, they wanted to do something once they did.

"You never want to get ahead of yourself," said senior wide receiver Poppy Livers, a former walk-on whose 59 receptions (for 860 yards and eight touchdowns) were more than twice as many as any of his teammates had. "You hear guys saying, if we win, we could be playing in Alabama [next] or North Dakota. It's normal to think about that stuff, as long as it's in the back of your head. You think about it and get it out of your mind.

"It's a new season. We're not 10-2. Everyone's 0-0 [when playoffs begin]. After our 2-9 season [in 2011], we told ourselves that this team was going to make something happen. Now it's here. You can't take anything for granted. Anyone can be beaten. You win or it's over. We're not ready for it to end yet."

The Wildcats are 7-1 at home in the tournament. The loss was to eventual national champ Youngstown State in the second round in 1997, 37-34, a game in which they led, 21-0.

"It's a big advantage," coach Andy Talley said. "We've been to a lot of faraway places. So this is great. Your comfort zone isn't violated in any way. But any team you're playing is a championship team. We're just thankful that we're playing."

Liberty, coached by former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill, won last week at James Madison (9-4) on a late touchdown. The Dukes, who lost here in late September by 18, had won their previous seven. Liberty also won in overtime at Appalachian State, which just moved up to FBS. The Flames had to win at unbeaten, top-ranked Coastal Carolina in the regular-season finale just to make the field. They lost at home in early October in double OT to Richmond, the only FCS team to beat Villanova (by one down there a month ago).

"It's definitely better to play somebody who hasn't seen us, but I like their team," Talley said. "They do a lot of things well. It's tough to play a team you've beaten before."

The winner will get Jacksonville (Ala.) State (10-1) or Sam Houston State (9-4), where former Rowan and Delaware coach K.C. Keeler is in his first season. A return to his home area obviously would make for an interesting quarterfinal. But first both must find a way. Host Jacksonville, located about 90 miles west of Atlanta, had a week off. Sam Houston won at Southeastern Louisiana, 21-7, with 14 fourth-quarter points set up by a muffed punt and blocked field goal.

At this stage, the how part doesn't matter.

"Last week, it kind of hit me and it made me emotional," Livers said. "We've got an opportunity that everyone doesn't get. And the team you're playing works just as hard, wants it just as much as you do.

"Just being in this position is a blessing. We've got to take it and run with it. Everything's on the line. For the guys who aren't going to be back, this is it. We want to make our mark here, too."

That's why a lot of them came.

"I think we had a great projection for what kind of team we could be," Talley said. "It really is a team. Not a lot of superstars [other than junior quarterback John Robertson], but a lot of good football players.

"Now they control their destiny. It's really a nice place to be."