THE STORY LINE for Villanova's journey in the FCS playoffs just got a bit juicier.
Or maybe even a bunch.
The Wildcats (11-2) had to come from behind to beat visiting Liberty (9-5) in the rain in Saturday's second-round, 29-22. Next up in this weekend's quarterfinals is Sam Houston State (10-4), which won at Jacksonville State (10-2), 37-26. If nothing else the 'Cats don't have to fly to Alabama, which is what would have happened had Jacksonville advanced.
But Sam Houston is coached by a familiar face in K.C. Keeler, who got to five Division III title games with Rowan in the 1990s and three more FCS finals with Delaware in the first decade of this century (the Blue Hens won in 2003). It's his first year with the Bearkats, who've won seven straight, following 1 year away from the sidelines.
He's 4-7 against his one-time rival.
"He's a good friend," said Villanova coach Andy Talley. "We talked early in the season. He was already telling me about a transfer from Alabama, one from Texas, another from Baylor. I'm like, 'Oh my God.' You watch them on tape, he's got some dudes. If he was here tonight he'd be wearing sunglasses. He'd have those wraparounds on . . .
"I'm sure that [playing us] will be a little bit of an advantage for him. He kind of knows what our deal is. But the name of the game in the playoffs is to be home. You don't want to be getting on a plane."
This was the first postseason win for Villanova, which had an opening bye, since it reached the semifinals in 2010. The Wildcats are now 8-1 at home in the tournament. The loss was in 1997 in the second round to eventual champion Youngstown State after they led 21-0.
Against a Turner Gill-coached team that already had several impressive road wins, the Wildcats were down 13-0 in the second quarter, their largest deficit of the year. And it could have been 17-0, but a touchdown got overturned by a replay review and the Flames were forced to settle for a field goal.
The 'Cats tied things early in the fourth on a 70-yard pass from John Robertson to Kevin Gulyas and Robertson's two-point conversion scramble. An 87-yard completion to Gulyas on his only other reception, the longest pass play in program history, had set up their first TD.
They got the ball with 8:23 left and went on an 18-play, 84-yard drive that took up just over 7 minutes, with Robertson going in from a yard out. None of the plays were passes. They've had their kicking issues this year, and went for it on a fourth-and-1 at the 8 instead of trying a field goal. Kevin Monangai got the handoff and picked up 3. He had nine carries on the possession, for 47 of his 102 rushing yards. Robertson, who had 100 yards on the ground, scored from the 1.
Robertson threw for 217 and added 100 on the ground, to pass Chris Boden (1996-99) as the program's all-time total offense leader. The Walter Payton Award finalist is at 10,273 yards, and he's a junior.
This was the third time the Wildcats have won a game late. And it would have been four had they converted a short FG in the opening overtime loss at Syracuse.
"The 2009 [national-title] team had much more talent," said Talley. "We've got a lot of team guys who play together. They've got 'it.' At this point, it's become part of our DNA.
"We've had our hearts broken enough [on missed kicks]. It was John Robertson or field goal. Go with John Robertson. I told our coaches to have a fourth-down play called."
There are a lot worse options.
For the second time in 3 years, an unbeaten Pride team went down in the Division III quarterfinals.
In 2012, it was at eventual national champ Mount Union. This time it was at Quick Stadium, where they'd never lost in seven previous playoff games. But Linfield (11-1), from Oregon, won 45-7 and is headed to the semis for the first time since 2009. The Wildcats will take on defending champion UW-Whitewater (13-0), which beat Wartburg by four.
Widener still won 12 times for just the third time in program history, and first since 2001.
First-year coach Mike Kelly was not happy that Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who of course coached at Oregon, let Linfield practice at the indoor NovaCare Complex on Friday. Mike, who was an Eagles' assistant in 2001-02, made it clear he'd be rooting for the Seahawks yesterday.
Can't we all just get along?
In the other half of the bracket Wesley (12-1) beat Hobart in Dover, 41-13, and now goes to Mount Union (13-0), which got by John Carroll at home by eight. Both semfinals are Saturday.