Dec. 12, 2009

Sidebar: Szczur, 'Nova's Conquering Hero

By Gordie Jones
Special to

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Quarterback Chris Whitney ran 1 yard for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter as Villanova rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat William & Mary 14-13 in a Football Championship Subdivision semifinal Friday night.

The Wildcats (13-1) advanced to the championship game for the first time in school history. They will face the winner of Saturday's semifinal between Montana (13-0) and Appalachian State (11-2) in the final next Friday in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Villanova had reached the semifinals only one other time, losing to McNeese State in 2002. That this team managed to go a step beyond makes it, in the estimation of veteran coach Andy Talley, "the elite group of the 25 I've had. This team has the ability to dig deep. I don't think I've had a team as gritty as this group."

Whitney went the final yard on a fourth-down keeper with 10:57 left to give Villanova a one-point lead, and the Wildcats made it stand up the rest of the frigid night. The temperature at game time was 28 degrees.

Whitney's TD capped an agonizing 13-play, 48-yard drive that included a fake punt and three replay reviews. The last of those reviews had come after Wildcats running back Aaron Ball, on a second-and-goal snap from the 8, burrowed to the goal line and almost into the end zone.

Villanova lined up quickly and Whitney sneaked it in, but the play was blown dead while the officials checked to see if Ball had crossed the goal line. It was determined that he had not, and Whitney tried another sneak, only to be stacked up.

Now it was fourth down, but rather than sneak it again, Whitney took one step forward after accepting the snap, then sprinted outside right tackle to score easily.

"I knew if I took a step down, the right side would be wide open," he said.

William & Mary (11-3) had taken a 13-7 lead on a 40-yard field goal by Brian Tate, his second of the game and 23rd of the season, with 2:13 left in the third quarter.

But Villanova all-purpose threat Matt Szczur, who had scored his team's first touchdown on a 62-yard bolt out of the Wildcat formation earlier in the third quarter, returned the ensuing kickoff 31 yards. And four plays later he went 9 yards on the fake punt -- a play that withstood the drive's first review to determine if in fact he had made the first down.

Later in the march Whitney appeared to hit wide receiver Brandyn Harvey for a gain of 16 along the left sideline to the 6. But the pass was at first ruled incomplete, an official believing Harvey had not gotten a foot down inbounds. That led to another review, and this time the call was overturned. Whitney scored four plays after that.

William & Mary coach Jimmye Leycock thought the fake punt was "as big a play as there was" in the game.

"You've got to be ready for stuff like that," he said. "They made a good play. They made a better play than we made."

To that point, Villanova had been outgained 337-155.  

"We needed something," Talley said, "and that was the something I thought we needed."

After that, the Wildcats picked up 112 yards and limited the Tribe to minus-1.

William & Mary opened the scoring early in the second quarter. Facing a third-and-9 from his own 2, quarterback R.J. Archer lofted a pass down the left sideline to junior wide receiver Cameron Dohse, who had beaten cornerback Eric Loper. Dohse caught the ball near his own 40 and went the distance to complete the 98-yard scoring play, which besides being a school record was also an FCS playoff mark.

The Tribe then drove 55 yards in the final 2:17 of the half to set up Pate's first field goal, a 46-yarder.

Szczur's 62-yard run with 9:03 left in the third quarter cut the gap to 10-7. Pate then kicked his 40-yarder.