MISSOULA — All sorts of emotions were on display on the Sprinturf at Washington-Grizzly Stadium Saturday, after the Montana Grizzlies held off Appalachian State 24-17 in their FCS semifinal.
But beyond the anguish and disbelief for the Mountaineers and the delirium exhibited by the Griz players and their belly-sliding fans was this: They get another shot.
“We’ve got a second chance,” said safety Shann Schillinger. “Being a senior, that’s all I could ask for.
“That’s a credit to Coach (Bobby) Hauck and his staff, and the people around me for putting in the time.
“I don’t think people realize how much time goes into it, and we’re excited about this opportunity we’ve got. We’re going to put this one behind us pretty soon, and get onto the next one.”
The next one is the 2009 Division I Football Championship, Friday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. MST.
The Griz will be the “visiting” team against Villanova, which edged William & Mary 14-13 in Friday’s semifinal to earn its first title shot.
“Can you believe it? Villanova’s going to play for the national championship,” Villanova coach Andy Talley told the Philadelphia News. “It’s actually hard to believe. That was a gutty win for us.”
Hauck said much the same thing less than 24 hours later. His team withstood 353 passing yards from Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards, a dormant second quarter on offense and a decent Montana blizzard.
“They had 90-odd plays, they had 500 yards of offense,” Hauck said, noting that the Griz punted into the wind four times out of five, not counting an unsuccessful fake.
“There were some things going against us,” he said. “The reasons we won the game: Our third-down defense and our ability to run the ball — our running back and offensive line were special.
“Those two things and then our discipline, our lack of penalties, were huge. That’s how we won it.”
This is Montana’s third trip to the title game under Hauck, who is 80-16 in seven seasons with the Griz. Villanova will be the third Colonial Athletic Association team that he’ll face in the championship.
James Madison beat the Griz 31-21 in the 2004 title game, and last year the Griz lost to Richmond 24-7 in the championship.
Talley’s Wildcats are 13-1. Talley has been at Villanova since it restarted its program in 1985, and his record there is 177-102-1.
“They’ve got a good history,” Hauck said. “The coach has been there a while and done a nice job with his football team. We’ve played their conference here and there a lot, so we have a healthy dose of respect for them, I tell you that.”
Oddly enough Villanova occasionally lines up in the “Wildcat” formation; Matt Szczur (pronounced “Caesar”) took a direct snap 62 yards for its first score against William & Mary.
Szczur, a junior, is the CAA’s player of the year for both offense and special teams. He averages 140.6 all-purpose yards per game.
This season the 195-pounder out of Erma, N.J., has run for eight touchdowns, thrown for two, caught four TD passes and scored another TD by kickoff return. He was first-team all-CAA at both kick returner and receiver.
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It had to happen.
Somebody at Saturday’s postgame press conference had to ask Hauck about Talley’s prediction for last year’s semifinal game between Montana and James Madison.
To be fair, Talley was asked about it after JMU had beaten his Wildcats 31-27 on a last-second TD pass. Still, it was bulletin-board material.
“I think he predicted that James Madison would beat us by a bunch, and I think it was me that flipped it,” said Hauck, drawing some laughter. “Which I’m sure is going to come up. I appreciate you bringing it up so everybody can look back in their notes and find it.”
Which we did.
“They’ll beat Montana,” Talley said last December. “That’s a slam dunk for them. We would have beaten Montana. Our league is so strong. Richmond is good, we’re good.”
Montana then went to JMU and beat the top-seeded Dukes 35-27. It was a rare road playoff win for the Griz. Their others came in the 1995 and 2001 title games.
“It would’ve been easier to have Villanova at our place,” Hauck said at JMU’s post-game. “JMU came back and won that last game, but we would’ve beat Villanova by 50.”
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NOTES: Montana is 3-4 against the CAA — formerly the Atlantic-10 — in playoff games, and Hauck is 2-3. The Griz lost to UMass 19-17 in the 2006 semifinals, and beat New Hampshire 47-17 in the 2004 quarterfinals. Both those games were in Missoula. Delaware came in and beat Montana 49-48 in a first-round game in 1993, and the Griz beat Richmond 34-20 in a 2000 quarterfinal. ... Marc Mariani ranks just ahead of Szczur in all-purpose yards, at 143.4. Mariani is 13th in the FCS and Szczur is 14th. ... Besides Szczur, four other Wildcats made first team all-CAA: QB Chris Whitney, OT Ben Ijalana, DE Tim Kukucka and LB Terence Thomas. ... Nova lost to McNeese State 39-28 in its only other FCS semifinal appearance, in 2002. McNeese rallied past UM 24-20 the week before in the quarterfinals.