"It’s just a game and it’s his head."
That, according to Andy Talley, is the bottom line justifying why John Robertson, who may well win the prestigious Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS, didn’t play in Villanova’s season ending FCS quarterfinal 34-31 loss to visiting Sam Houston State Saturday.
No matter what the stakes, the longtime Wildcats’ coach, would never put a kid at risk — even one as talented as Robertson, who’d thrown for 2,846 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 1078 yards and 11 scores.
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So when Robertson informed him following morning mass he couldn’t go due to theconcussion he suffered during last week’s 29-22 win over Liberty, Talley never hesitated turning to senior Chris Polony. And Polony nearly pulled it off, throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown, running for 87 and two more scores.
Would a healthy Robertson have made the difference vs. former Delaware coach K.C. Keeler’s Bearkats? We’ll never know. But had the defense done its job, particularly after Polony’s 1-yard run gave the ‘Cats a 31-27 lead with 7:15 left, the Wildcats might be the ones preparing to take on three-time defending champ North Dakota State rather than Sam Houston.
"Chris was taking all the reps all week, but as of yesterday it looked like John would beable to play," said Talley, whose 11-3 club’s losses totaled five points. "but this morning he did not feel well.He hadn't slept and had a headache. He came to us and said `I don't think I can go'. His mindset was that he was letting us down. However, he’s had a concussion before and knows how it feels."
A decade or so ago chances are Robertson would’ve still buckled up his chinstrap and tried to gut it out. Things have changed since then.
"You worry about long-term effects," said Talley, whose club was also done in by a season-long problem — the kicking game — getting a punt blocked, missing an extra point, then seeing Chris Gough’s potential 51-yard field goal attempt to send it into overtime drift wide. "There is so much now with concussion issues that everyone is much more concerned about that kind of thing.But I like the protocol. It takes everybody off the hook and it’s safe for the kid. Even though he was cleared to play he just wasn’t right this morning He had a bit of a relapse overnight."
That put the game in the hands of Polony, who started way back as a freshman, before giving way to Robertson his sophomore season.
"It was awesome to see him step in like that and John was very supportive of him," said senior running back Kevin Monangai, who provided plenty of support, rushing for 166 yards on 27 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown. "I was just happy with the overall offensive performance.We are just proud of the way we took this program from 2-9 when we first came in to what it is now. We would've liked to have gone further but that's the way things go sometimes."
That it didn’t go their way certainly shouldn’t reflect on Polony.
"Chris did a great job," said Talley, who’ll at least have Robertson back for one more year. "He ran the ball well and threw it well.The bottom line is he gave us a chance to win."
Not a bad legacy to go out with.
"Someone always has to have a broken heart at the end of these games," said Talley, now five seasons removed from that 2009 ‘Nova team that won it all. "It’s time to look at the positive things.We were an overachieving team that won 11 games and I have no complaints."
Because they’re all still healthy which is what matters most. After all, it’s just a game.