While James Madison and its surprisingly large legion of fans who traveled North for the occasion celebrated clinching the Colonial Athletic Conference title, Andy Talley walked off the Villanova Stadium field for what may have been the final time in his 32-year-career.
The No. 6 ranked Dukes’ 20-7 win over Talley’s No. 9 ranked Wildcats — despite playing most of the way without do-everything quarterback Brian Schor — means 7-3 Nova will have to win at Delaware next weekend or else hope the FCS Tournament Selection Committee still selects them. It’s not a scenario Talley is anxious to explore.
“There's only one thing that I'm interested in right now, we gotta go beat Delaware,” said Talley, after Villanova squandered numerous chances to break a 7-7 halftime tie and was victimized by four Zack Bednarcyzk interceptions — three of them coming on tipped balls. “We've gone to Delaware before having to win that game to go to the playoffs, so for me it’s nothing new.”
“I think I sort of have mixed emotions about it, because I was so caught up in trying to get this upset and be a 9-and-2 team and be in the playoffs. Now we have to lower our goal a little bit and go down to Delaware and see if we can win there.”
If the Wildcats can defend the way they did against 9-1 JMU, which came in averaging a whopping 49.1 points a game and twice had hit the 80 mark, they figure to have a good chance. After Schor drove his team 84 yards in 13 plays off the opening kickoff to take a quick 7-0 lead Nova really picked up its game defensively. Of course it didn’t hurt that Schor had to leave early in the second quarter, replaced by freshman Connor Johnson, making his college debut.
“I thought when [Schor] went down we were going to win the game,” admitted Talley, as the Wildcats came up with two interceptions before the half, then bottled up the Dukes until those interceptions gave JMU short fields which resulted in two field goals and a late insurance touchdown. “He's really their team. I don't even know who the second kid (Johnson) is, but he wasn't going to be the same deal. “
Considering Schor went 10-for-11 for 108 yards and ran for 20 more, while Johnson was 5-for-12 for 43 yards with two interceptions, that was evident.
“I don’t know if he was nervous but we were throwing stuff at him you can’t prepare for on,” said Villanova linebacker Austin Calitro, who was in on 11 tackles, seven of them solo. “[Schor] is pretty good. He kept plays alive with his feet. We stopped the run (JMU managed just 126 yards in 43 carries, with Khalid Abdullah rushing for 101 and scoring twice) and for the most part held our ground.
“Unfortunately they got the ball in good field position a couple of times.”
That proved the difference, with Villanova’s offensive essentially limited to Bednarczyk’s 56-yard touchdown bolt up the middle, tying it 7-7 early in the second. Otherwise, Villanova was held in check by a JMU team which was giving up 26.3 points a game, which came as a surprise to Talley.
“It's just disappointing we did not play well on the offensive side of the ball and kind of blew a tremendous defensive effort away,” said Talley, who doubts Nova would be given a tournament home game even if they knock off the Blue Hens in Newark. “I thought we would score at least 21. My question was whether we could hold them to 20.”
They did, but it wasn’t enough. That was the main thing on Talley’s mind as he left the field, rather than focusing on the finality of it.
“I didn't have a lot of emotion regarding my last appearance here,” he admitted. “Maybe I should but I think most football coaches have tunnel vision regarding what's available. I don't want any focus taken off of our team. It’s been a long career, and I'll be here, I'll be around next year.”
Right now, though, all he and the Wildcats want is to still be around when the FCS playoffs get underway next week.