AN ERA finally came to a close after 32 seasons Saturday in, of all places, Brookings, S.D.
Andy Talley coached his first game at Villanova in 1985, a 27-7 win over Iona in what would become a 5-0 season. He'd been given the job a year earlier, when nothing was in place other than a vision. The program had last competed in 1980. He brought the sport back at what was then called the Division I-AA level. He leaves a legacy that might never be duplicated.
The Wildcats (9-4) lost at South Dakota State (9-3), 10-7, in the second round of the FCS playoffs. So Talley's record on the Main Line will read 230-137-1; counting his five seasons at Division III St. Lawrence, the totals come to 258-155-2. It had to end sometime, somewhere. The Wildcats had every chance to extend Talley's career at least one more week, which would have meant a trip to top-seeded, five-time defending champion North Dakota State (11-1). That won't happen. Yet he went out having made the postseason in six of his last nine years, which included a national-title run in 2009 and a third semifinal appearance the following December.
"I told our team after it was over that I've been in 23 of these playoff games, OK, and only one time did I come away happy," Talley said. "We got to the mountaintop. That's how it is. But what we did this year, I think you've got to love it.
"We came so close, in a hostile environment with snow flurries coming down. It's just a disappointment that we played well enough to win. Not that it was my last game. When you've been around as long as I have, there's an acceptance on my part that stuff is going to happen."
The Wildcats held the Jackrabbits, the only team this season to beat North Dakota State, to 197 yards. The hosts were averaging 35 points a game. They scored a touchdown late in the first quarter. Villanova answered with two seconds left in the half. With 1:21 to go, freshman Chase Vinatieri - the nephew of former Jackrabbit and longtime NFL kicking great Adam - capped a 37-yard drive by banking in a 40-yard field goal off an upright.
"I think we outplayed them, I really do," Talley said. "We shut them down. We moved the ball (321 yards), we just didn't capitalize. We had opportunities, which is unfortunate. It wasn't an easy trip. But it was a classic game. Just came down to a couple of plays that we couldn't come up with."
Talley finishes 12-11 in the playoffs. He was 9-2 at home, with both losses being three-pointers. He beat two No. 1 teams on the road in consecutive games in 2010, after winning at top-ranked Delaware the week before just to get into the tournament. This was the third time in the postseason he'd lost on the road by three or less. Two others were by four and six.
In the four losses this season, which included the opener at FBS Pitt, Villanova scored a total of two offensive touchdowns (and one defensive).
Longtime assistant Mark Ferrante is the new guy in charge. But on Sunday Talley was at work, like always.
"We've done everything we can to get this program where it needs to be," he said. "I'm here for another year and a half (to help with the transition). I'm just moving my stuff out of my office down the hall to my new office. And I'm looking out the window of the (new) Andy Talley Athletic Center. So we're good."