BROOKINGS, S.D. - Villanova's season - and longtime coach Andy Talley's career - ended Saturday, as the Wildcats were bounced from the FCS playoffs, 10-7, by South Dakota State at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
Villanova (9-4) successfully shut down the Missouri Valley Football Conference's best offense, holding the Jackrabbits to 197 total yards, almost 300 fewer than their per-game average. But they weren't able to support that effort with much offense of their own.
SDSU's Chase Vinatieri, the nephew of NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri, provided the game-winning points with a 40-yard field goal into a 20-mph wind with 1 minute, 21 seconds to play, and the Wildcats were unable to mount an answer. They threw three straight incomplete passes afer a first-down sack on their final possession.
"I thought coming in they were a little bit better than us, and that we'd have to play exceptionally well to be in a position to win, and we did that, so what can you say," said Talley, who finishes his 32-year run at Villanova with a 230-171-1 record.
"We gave everyone their money's worth. It was a fantastic effort. Obviously this is my last game, so it's always difficult, but I've been in 22 playoff games and the only one where I was happy at the end was when we won the national championship in 2009."
The Wildcats gained 321 yards of offense, moving the ball with some success between the 30s. But they had trouble finishing drives. They were 6 of 16 on third downs and 1 for 4 on fourth downs. SDSU came up with three sacks and generally seemed to buckle down whenever Villanova was in position to score.
"There's nothing I could really pinpoint," said Villanova running back Matt Gudzak, who had 66 yards rushing and 43 receiving. "They started to realize what we were doing and then catch on. They had the recipe to stop us when we got down the field."
The Jacks scored first, going 78 yards in nine plays on their second drive of the game, with Taryn Christion finding Dallas Goedert on a 4-yard fade to make it 7-0. Little did anyone suspect at that moment that a team averaging almost 40 points per game wouldn't find the end zone again.
The wind and a light snow seemed to hamper SDSU's passing game, and the Wildcats snuffed out the Jacks' efforts to run. Their success was all the more impressive in that CAA all-conference performers Tanoh Kpassagnon and Rob Rolle both missed a significant share of the action with injuries.
"I'm really proud of our guys," said Kpassagnon, who returned in the second half after missing most of the first with a thumb injury. "I think we did a pretty good job [defensively]. That's what we try to do every week - stop the run and force them to pass. [SDSU] had some good plays on us, but I'm proud of our guys overall."
The Jackrabbits (9-3) embarked on the game-clinching drive with 3:28 to go. They started at their own 40, and saw their all-conference tight end make a play to extend their season. Christion threw a pass near the right sideline that appeared intended for wide receiver Marquise Lewis. But Goedert came streaking back toward the ball, cutting in front of Lewis to snag it. Goedert, who broke SDSU's single-season record for catches in the game (he now has 86 this year), then raced across the field for a 33-yard gain that set up Vinatieri's winning kick.
"I actually did come in and steal it - but I didn't know it at the time," Goedert said. "I thought I could catch it and I caught it. I guess it was supposed to go to Marquise."
The Jackrabbits beat two of the other teams still alive in the FCS playoffs, including five-time defending champion North Dakota State, so this is hardly a loss the Wildcats need to feel bad about. But the players obviously took it hard in knowing it was Talley's finale.
"Coach Talley is like a second father to us," Gudzak said. "He's always there for us, always cheering for us at practice and giving us those pep talks. It's tough to go out this way. He means everything to us and we wish him the best."