Once again, a team from the Colonial Athletic Association reigns supreme in the Football Championship Subdivision. And once again, Montana came up empty in the NCAA Division I championship game.
Led by outstanding offensive performances from Matt Szczur and Chris Whitney, Villanova edged the Grizzlies 23-21 Friday night at Finley Stadium to give the CAA back-to-back national champions. The CAA has won four of the last seven titles -- Appalachian State's 2005-07 three-peat interrupted the streak -- and five since 1998.
Playing in the CAA, Villanova coach Andy Talley said, "gives you a good seasoning to be ready for this. Your players don't break. There's a strong will there that's been forged in a very difficult league."
The Wildcats (14-1), the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, won the program's first national championship a year after Richmond beat Montana 24-7 to win its first title. For Talley, the championship comes in his 25th season as Villanova's coach.
"For someone at the end of his career, you don't get a chance to do this very often," he said after the Wildcats earned their fifth win of the season against a Top 10 team.
Talley added that he has no plans to retire any time soon.
"I want to come back, and I think (Villanova's administrators) feel good with what we've done here," he said.
The top-seeded Grizzlies have played in three of the last six national championship games, but they've come up empty in all three. Montana (14-1) won the title in 1995 and 2001 and was seeking the program's first undefeated season.
"I've enjoyed this team an awful lot, and it's very disappointing to come down here and not get to 15-0," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "We had a chance to be 15-0, to be perfect on the season, and ultimately we didn't get it done."
All-American Szczur, who was named the game's most outstanding player, paced Villanova with two touchdowns and 270 yards all-purpose yards, including a career-high 159 rushing. Quarterback Whitney also was doubly effective, rushing for 102 yards and completing 10 of 13 passes for 142 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
The Wildcats rushed for 351 yards and outgained the Grizzlies 493-425.
Villanova is known for its men's basketball program, which has been to the Final Four four times, including last season. The Wildcats had only about 1,000 fans among the announced crowd of 14,328 on Friday. The Grizzlies appeared to have at least 4,000 supporters in attendance.
The Montana fans had a lot to cheer about in the first half as the Grizzlies jumped out to a 14-3 lead thanks to a passing attack that appeared unstoppable. Quarterback Andrew Selle connected with All-America wideout Marc Mariani nine times for 178 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and Selle had 232 passing yards by halftime.
Villanova, which trailed 14-9 at halftime, held Montana to just 132 yards of offense in the second half. Fifty-three of those yards came on a touchdown pass with 1:07 remaining in the game.
"We figured that if we kept on applying pressure, pretty soon we would be able to wear down their big offensive line," Villanova linebacker Terence Thomas said. "I think we started to see that in the second half."
CAA on top
After Villanova's win Friday night, a Colonial Athletic Association team has won four of the past seven FCS national championships:
2003 Delaware (CAA)
2004 James Madision (CAA)
2005 Appalachian State (SoCon)
2006 Appalachian State (SoCon)
2007 Appalachian State (SoCon)
2008 Richmond (CAA)
2009 Villanova (CAA)