Villanova Beats Montana 23-21 in FCS Title Game

By Beacon Staff

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Matt Szczur promised he would do everything he could to help Villanova win its first Football Championship Subdivision title.

He certainly kept his word.

Szczur rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns to help Villanova beat Montana 23-21 in the FCS final Friday night. He also had four receptions for 68 yards, returned two kickoffs for 43 yards and recorded two special teams tackles.

“What can I say about Matt Szczur? He’s the best player we’ve had at Villanova since Brian Westbrook,” Wildcats coach Andy Talley said.

Right now, Szczur is planning to take a different path than the Philadelphia Eagles running back. The junior had a team-best .346 batting average for the Wildcats’ baseball team last season.

“I’ll probably enter the (Major League Baseball) draft, but I love these guys,” Szczur said. “It’s a hard decision to make, but it’s a good decision to make.”

The top-seeded Grizzlies (14-1) struggled to stop Szczur and quarterback Chris Whitney on the ground, costing them another chance at their third championship and ending their undefeated season. Montana won the 1995 and 2001 championship but lost in the final in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.

“This hurts so bad to be sitting here two years in a row with the same sick feeling,” wide receiver Marc Mariani said. “It just kills.”

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 a 16-14 lead with 5:26 left in the third quarter.

Whitney finished 10 for 13 for 142 yards with an interception. 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.”

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 (14-1) made a first down before running out the clock.

The Wildcats were down 14-9 at halftime after allowing 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 27-for-35 for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Mariani had nine receptions for 178 yards 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 Eric Loper hit Sambrano so hard on third-and-12 he dropped a first-down catch.

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.

Villanova made a couple of big plays during its second-half rally. On fourth-and-1 at the Montana 3, the Wildcats went for it and Szczur plowed ahead into the end zone for a 23-14 lead with 11:04 left in the fourth quarter.

“The offensive line came out and had a great second half,” Szczur said.