Andy Talley made only one request when a few of his players decided they wanted to pick him up and carry him on their shoulders following Villanova’s 41-10 rout of rival Delaware last weekend.
“I just said, ‘Don’t drop me,’” recalled Talley, who’s retiring as the Wildcats’ head football coach after the season.
They didn’t drop him. Still, it was something the venerable 73-year-old wanted to end as quickly as possible.
“I’m not a big carry-off-the-field guy,” Talley admitted. “I didn’t like it.”
Talley’s trepidation for his team’s memorable gesture makes plenty of sense. Although many people have wanted to talk to him about how his reign at the Wildcats’ helm will soon end after 32 years, he’s consistently tried to downplay it, focusing instead on the smooth passing-of-the-baton to top assistant and future head coach Mark Ferrante as well as the fact that he’s still got a year left on his contract and will transition into an administrative role, perhaps in the new $20 million football operations building that bears his name.
Also, there’s this: Saturday’s win against Delaware simply marked his final regular-season game in charge. There’s still that little matter of the postseason, which begins for Talley and the No. 9 Wildcats (8-3) on Saturday when they host St. Francis (7-4) in the opening round of the FCS playoffs at Villanova Stadium (2 p.m., ESPN3).
“It’s always a special opportunity,” Talley said of hosting a playoff game. “It’s like having a bowl game. There’s agony and ecstasy involved in it. You win and you continue; you lose and you’re done. Even though you’ve earned a playoff spot, the feeling of continuing is tremendous because the excitement goes on. But the feeling of losing in a playoff game is awful because all of a sudden you see all those teams advancing and you’re sitting at home the next week. It’s sort of a bittersweet feeling.”
Talley knows a thing or two about the playoffs. Villanova is making its 12th appearance in the Division I Football Championship, and its sixth in the last nine years. The Wildcats are 11-10 all-time in the FCS playoffs and have won eight of their last 12 postseason games since 2008, which included a national championship in 2009 — one of Villanova’s three runs to the final four under Talley.
St. Francis, on the other hand, is a newcomer to the FCS playoffs, earning the Northeast Conference’s automatic bid after tying for first place in the league (and winning the tiebreaker). But Talley believes the “up-and-coming” Red Flash team won’t be a pushover, pointing specifically to efficient quarterback Zack Drayer and defensive back Jerome Lorenzo, an NFL prospect who has six interceptions this year.
Villanova, meanwhile, will rely on quarterback Zach Bednarczyk and a balanced rushing game as well as star defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon — the CAA Defensive Player of the Year, whom Talley called “probably as great a player as we’ve ever had” — and a stifling defense that ranks high nationally in several categories.
“We’re gonna have to play well on both sides of the ball,” Talley said. “We know in a playoff game you’re gonna have to show up offensively. I’m hoping that Zach Bednarczyk is ready to play well — he needs to run and throw. We’re not gonna be able to just run the ball against this group. We’ve gotta be able to mix it up.”
Although the Wildcats, who finished tied for second in the CAA behind only James Madison, aren’t looking ahead, they know a big challenge awaits if they can knock off St. Francis — a big challenge in the form of a trip to South Dakota State in the second round followed by a likely trip to FCS power North Dakota State the following week.
“The bracket couldn’t be tougher,” Talley said. “I don’t think they did us any favors.”
Talley, though, quickly pointed out that the Wildcats have traveled difficult roads before in the playoffs. So even though he believes this team has “overachieved” to get to where they are, he also knows that anything is possible in the postseason.
Would it mean even more to him if the ’Cats can go on a deep run in his final trip through the playoffs?
“Obviously it would be a great thing for the team and coaches,” Talley said. “But I’ve done this before. I don’t need that run to satisfy me in any way. I’ve had a great career at one school with a lot of great players and a lot of great people.
“If we were to go further, it would just be icing on the cake, really.”