CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Andy Talley’s friends warned him about undergoing heart tests a few days before traveling to the national championship game. They didn’t want the Villanova coach to suffer complications before the big game.
After waiting 25 seasons for his first shot at a title, Talley didn’t heed their warnings.
"If I died here winning the national championship, that would be a pretty good death," he said. "Does that tell you how much it means to me?"
Talley can rest easy now.
Matt Szczur ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns and had another 68 yards receiving, leading Villanova (14-1) to its first Football Championship Subdivision title with a 23-21 victory over Montana on Friday night.
Talley was hired in 1985 to rebuild the program after the school’s four-year absence from the sport.
Top-seeded Montana (14-1) was making a record 17th consecutive appearance in the playoffs. The Grizzlies, the 1995 and 2001 champions, lost to Richmond last year in the title game. Montana also lost in the final in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
"This hurts so bad to be sitting here two years in a row with the same sick feeling," Montana wide receiver Marc Mariani said. "It just kills."
Chris Whitney led an 81-yard drive, running for 22 yards on one play and connecting with Szczur for 26 yards on another. Whitney hit Chris Farmer with a 3-yard TD pass to give Villanova 16-14 lead with 5:26 left in the third quarter.
Whitney finished 10 for 13 for 142 yards, an interception and the touchdown. He also ran for 102 yards.
It wasn’t a lack of confidence that caused the Grizzlies to struggle in the second half, just mistakes, coach Bobby Hauck said.
"We didn’t stop the run well enough," he said. "Szczur and Whitney are good ballcarriers. They had it in their hands as they should have."
Montana’s Andrew Selle threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Jabin Sambrano to pull the Grizzlies to 23-21 with 1:07 left, but the onside kick attempt went out of bounds, and Villanova made a first down before running out the clock.
The Wildcats were down 14-9 at halftime after allowing the Grizzlies 246 yards passing in the first two quarters. Talley made adjustments — defensive backs played more man-to-man and the Wildcats found their pass rush after taking the lead.
Selle finished 12 for 35 for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Mariani had 178 yards on nine catches before halftime, but didn’t catch a single pass in the second half.
Marquis Kirkland sacked Selle for a loss of 7 yards, ending Montana’s last drive of the third quarter. The Grizzlies’ next drive ended when Villanova’s Eric Loper hit Sambrano so hard on third-and-12 he dropped a first-down catch.
Villanova wouldn’t be denied. On fourth-and-1 at the Montana 3, the Wildcats went for it and Szczur plowed ahead into the end zone for the 23-14 lead with 11:04 left in the fourth quarter.
"To be honest, I didn’t think I’d break as much as I did. The offensive line came out and had a great second half," Szczur said.
Montana had a shot at a 31-yard field goal on its first drive of the game, but the ball, wet from the falling rain, spun out of holder Jeff Larson’s hands and his pass attempt fell short.
"That’s a pretty short field goal. It would have been nice to have that," Hauck said.