Andy Talley has taken his Villanova team to a lot of places all across the college football universe during his 32-year run on the Main Line. But he's never been to South Dakota State.
There's a first time for everything.
That's where the Wildcats (9-3) will be headed next Saturday for the second round of the FCS playoffs, to take on the only team that beat top-seeded, five-time defending champion North Dakota State this season. They extended the retiring Talley's career by at least one more game with a 31-21 win Saturday over visiting St. Francis (Loretto, Pa.) that wasn't really that close.
"I look forward to it," said Talley, who most likely coached his last game at Villanova Stadium. "It'll be a good trip for us. At this point, when there's 16 teams left, anybody's really capable of beating anybody. The [Colonial Athletic Association] has prepared us to play in the playoffs. You're in so many wars it's like, 'OK, another CAA game.' "
The Jackrabbits (8-3) had an opening bye.
Talley improved to 9-2 in the postseason on Lancaster Avenue. The losses were both by three points. He's 12-10 overall, which of course includes a national championship in 2009 and trips to the semifinals in 2002 and 2010.
This one was 31-7 at the half. The Red Flash (7-5), making their first playoff appearance, scored on a 78-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter and a short run with 33 seconds to go.
"The second half was a little disappointing [offensively]," said quarterback Zach Bednarczyk. "We know that next week we're going to have to play four quarters of good football."
The Wildcats passed for 254 yards and rushed for 241, or 214 more than St. Francis. Five guys had between 31 and 62 apiece. Their average per carry was 4.9.
Bednarczyk threw for three touchdowns, after tying a career-high with four last week at Delaware. Tight end Ryan Bell caught two of them for the second straight game and third time this year. One was a 59-yarder, which started out as a short pass before he found a seam and took off like a wideout.
"I actually thought I was going to get caught," Bell joked. "I didn't know I was that fast."
That was part of a three-scores-in-four-play sequence near the end of the first period, including a 74-yarder from Zack Drayer to Lewis Cameron that accounted for almost half of the Red Flash's first-half output.
The last time Villanova was away in the playoffs was 2012, when the Wildcats lost to Stony Brook, 20-10. In 2010 they beat Stephen F. Austin and Appalachian State, both ranked No. 1 at the time, on the road. After beating top-ranked Delaware in Newark just to get into the field.
If they make it to the quarterfinals it would likely be at North Dakota State.
"It's not goodbye," said Talley. "We're still playing. Keep your eye on the Wildcats. We're a dangerous animal right now."