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The CAA Today: INVICTUS

floated rightTerence Thomas, Sr. CSN The CAA Today columnist

They say “Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder”. Every one of us perceives things a little differently than the other. Some of you may perceive a different meaning from the following poem than I. However, it is in this writer’s opinion that the very spirit of this poem runs through the blood of the remaining participants in this FCS season.

...

“OUT OF THE NIGHT THAT COVERS ME,
BLACK AS THE PIT FROM POLE TO POLE,
I THANK WHATEVER GODS MAY BE
FOR MY UNCONQUERABLE SOUL.
IN THE FELL CLUTCH OF CIRCUMSTANCE
I HAVE NOT WINCED NOR CRIED ALOUD.
UNDER THE BLUDGEONINGS OF CHANCE
MY HEAD IS BLOODY, BUT UNBOWED.
BEYOND THIS PLACE OR WRATH AND TEARS
LOOMS BUT THE HORROR OF THE SHADE.
AND YET THE MENACE OF THE YEARS
FINDS, AND SHALL FIND, ME UNAFRAID.
IT MATTERS NOT HOW STRAIT THE GATE,
HOW CHARGED WITH PUNISHMENTS THE SCROLL.
I AM THE MASTER OF MY FATE:
I AM THE CAPTAIN OF MY SOUL”

– By William Ernest Henley

Apparently, there’s a new release in theaters by the same name. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see it, thus I cannot draw comparisons between this poem and the movie. However, I was in attendance at the Villanova vs. William & Mary game, and I did catch portions of the Montana vs. Appalachian State game, and will be happy to compare those games, and the Wildcats and Grizzlies to this poem.

For me, “INVICTUS” talks about summoning the will to persevere through adversity.

During the Monday morning coaches teleconference, Villanova football head coach, Andy Talley explained how Villanova had played football for 106 years leading up to 2009. In 1981, Villanova University dropped football. Through the efforts of the Villanova alumni, football was brought back 4 years later. This act is one that can be considered “Perseverance through Adversity”.

In the same teleconference, Sr., LB, Osayi Osunde (Bloomsburg, Pa) stated when he arrived at Villanova in his freshman year, that team was 4 – 7. Now, in his Senior year, the Wildcats are 13 – 1 and playing for the National Championship, “Perseverance through Adversity”.

In the first game of the 2009 campaign, Villanova fell behind FBS Temple 10 – 0 at halftime, and 24 – 14 in the fourth quarter. Villanova rallied to come from behind and win 27 – 24, “Perseverance through Adversity”. In week #11, Villanova fell behind Richmond 20 – 14 with just under four minutes remaining in the game. Villanova rallied from behind to defeat the #1 ranked Spiders 21 – 20, “Perseverance through Adversity”. In last week’s Semi-Final game against William & Mary, Villanova fell behind 10 – 0 at halftime. The Tribe had won the first half, and was 30 minutes from playing in the Championship game in Chattanooga. The Tribe had the #1 defense in the country, and they knew Villanova well being from the same conference and having played early in October. The Tribe knew all of their plays, and all of their tricks. Villanova rallied from behind to defeat the Tribe 14 – 13 and advance to their first ever National Championship game, “Perseverance through Adversity”. Only one opponent remains, that stands in the way of Villanova achieving their first ever FOOTBALL Championship; MONTANA.

The Montana Grizzlies have won two National Championships (1995 & 2001). Montana has appeared in seven National Championship games. Montana has been to the playoffs 19 times, including 17 straight seasons. Montana has won 18 Big Sky Conference titles including the last 12 in a row. From where the Griz faithful sit, there is very little adversity around Missoula in regards to football.

However, since Head Coach, Bobby Hauck took over the program in 2003, the Griz has been to the National Championship twice and lost both times to CAA teams (James Madison 2004, Richmond 2008). Overall the Griz is 3 – 4 against the CAA, and under Coach Hauck, the Griz are 2 – 3 against the CAA. Montana owns a 30 -17 FCS playoff record. The Griz are 27 – 6 at home, 2 – 8 on the road, and 1 – 3 at neutral sites.

The strength of the Big Sky’s conference is repeatedly raised when discussing the Griz. Because Montana is so good, and has a 47 – 6 Big Sky record under Coach Hauck, the rest of the Big Sky is not looked on as strong opponents. Montana often has to endure the criticism that they had an easier path to the playoffs and are not battle tested come playoff time, but the aforementioned playoff record would suggest different.

During Week #2, Montana trailed UC Davis 10 – 0 in the third quarter, but rallied to come from behind and win 17 – 10, “Perseverance through Adversity”. In Week #4, Montana trailed Northern Arizona 31 – 27 with under 4 minutes remaining in the game. The game went into overtime with Montana prevailing 41 – 34, “Perseverance through Adversity”. In week #5, Montana trailed Cal Poly 17 – 14 early in the 4th quarter, but rallied to score 21 points in the quarter to win 35 – 23, “Perseverance through Adversity”. The remainder of the Griz regular season was pretty much the same. There were no gimme’s, as the Griz had to earn their 11 – 0 record entering the playoffs. Every team Montana faced brought their “A” game, which Montana has become accustomed to. The Griz digs deep, and finds a way to win.

Enter the 2009 FCS playoffs, and immediately, the Griz trailed South Dakota State. With a little more than 5 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Griz trailed 48 – 21. However, the Griz would mount a comeback of epic proportions scoring six (6) unanswered touchdowns to win 61 – 48, “Perseverance through Adversity”. In the Semi-Final game, Montana would draw the offensively charged Appalachian State Mountaineers, with their Peyton Award Candidate QB, Armanti Edwards. The Mountaineers held a 17 – 14 lead into the 4th quarter. The Griz tied the score early in the 4th with a 32 yard field goal. With a minute and a half remaining, the Griz scored the go ahead touchdown to give them the lead at 24 – 17. But the game was not yet over, as the Griz had to withstand the storm of the Mountaineers as Edwards led App State to the Griz 10 yard line. The Griz “Persevered through Adversity” and held on to win by denying the Mountaineers and the mighty Armanti Edwards the end zone.

Now there remains one opponent in the Griz’s path to their first National Championship under Coach Hauck, VILLANOVA.

SEMIFINAL GAME RECAP

On what had been a bitterly cold and windy day that began with a 9 degree wind chill, remained cold (27 degrees), but the wind had subsided.. It was 8:00 EST, and time for the William & Mary Tribe to clash with the Villanova Wildcats. The game began as billed as a battle of two very tough defensive minded teams. William & Mary had a net of 31 rushing yards and 21 passing yards in the first quarter for a total of 52 yards in 18 plays. Villanova was only a little better, as they only managed 57 yards in 12 plays. Villanova Jr. QB, Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa) was the only rusher for the Cats, gaining 16 net yards. The Tribe was able to sack Whitney twice in the opening quarter for losses of 12 yards total. Whitney was 1 for 5 in passing for 40 yards, as the Tribe hurried Whitney forcing some of his throws off their mark.

On the other side of the ball, the Tribe could not maintain anything offensively. The Tribe had the ball for almost 10 minutes in the 1st quarter, but never got past their 33 yard line. The Wildcat punter, So., Dominic Scarnecchia (Youngstown, OH) twice put the ball inside the Tribe 5 yard line. The first quarter ended in a 0 – 0 tie.




On the Tribe’s second possession of the 2nd quarter, facing 3rd & 9 from the Tribe 2 yard line, Sr. QB, R.J. Archer (Earlysville, Va.) found Jr., WR, Cameron Dohse (Clifton, Va) running up the left (home team side) sideline for a 98 yard touchdown pass. The PAT made the score 7 – 0 Tribe with 10 ½ minutes remaining in the half. During the post game press conference, Dohse stated the Tribe was aware of the Wildcat DB’s liked to jump routes, and felt they could exploit this brief breach in coverage and took their shot.

Sr. K, Brian Pate (Fredericksburg, Va) tacked on a 46 yard FG as time expired to extend the Tribe’s lead to 10 – 0 at halftime. The Tribe had gained 257 yards of total offense by this time and held the ball for 11 minutes.

Villanova did not register a first down in the quarter, and only had the ball for just under 4 minutes. The Wildcats had a total of 9 rushing yards in the 2nd quarter, while Whitney was 1 for 5 in passing for 4 yards. At halftime, Villanova had 70 yards in 21 plays, and no points.

The third quarter picked up where the previous two quarters ended with defense leading the way. Neither team could move the ball in their initial possessions. On Villanova’s 2nd possessions, Whitney would run twice for 18 yards. The latter run for 15 was the result of Whitney not being able to find an open receiver and the Tribe rush breathing down his neck, Whitney took off for 15 yards. With 1st & 10 from the VU 38, Nova lined up in the “Wildcat” with Jr. WR/KR Matt Szczur (Erma, NJ) 5 yards behind the center, and 3 receivers to his right. The Tribe over loaded defensively to the offensive right (defensive left), and blitzed to that side of the field. Szczur took the snap left behind a pulling guard and raced around the left end for a 62 yard TD run to close the score to 10 – 7.

On the Tribe’s ensuing drive, Archer led William & Mary on a 15 play 55 yard drive that took up 6:45 and ended in a Pate FG from 40 yards out to extend the Tribe’s lead to 13 – 7 with 2 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter.

The 3rd quarter ended with the same score and the Tribe enjoying an total yardage advantage of 337 to 171, a time of possession advantage of 31 minutes to just under 14 minutes, and the Tribe was 9 of 16 on 3rd downs, while VU was 0 for 8. The Tribe was 15 minutes away from a trip to Chattanooga and the National Championship Game.

After the W&M FG, Szczur ran the ensuing kickoff back 31 yards giving Nova starting field position at the VU 48 yard line with 2 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. Whitney was sacked for a 1 yard loss on first down. Whitney was pressured and skipped a pass to Szczur on 2nd down, and rushed for 3 yards on 3rd down. With 4th and 8 from the Tribe 48, head coach Andy Talley may have been thinking about the last two lines in INVICTUS, “….I AM THE MASTER OF MY FATE, I AM THE CAPTAIN OF MY SOUL”. As cool as can be, Coach Talley elected to go for a Fake Punt. Scarnecchia lined up in his normal Punt formation. Szczur lined up as the gunner on the offensive right. In Scarnecchia’s rugby style punt delivery, he runs right to kick the ball. This time instead of kicking he flipped the ball to Szczur who was running a reverse around left end. Szczur had the option to pass, but did not think is receiver was open, so he raced to the chains for the first down. The quarter would expire and VU was successful in keeping the drive alive.

VU had reached the Tribe’s 22 yd line. It was 3rd and 7, when Whitney dropped back to pass. Whitney found Sr. WR, Brandyn Harvey (Spring Valley, Ca) on the left sideline. Initially the play was ruled “NO CATCH” by the referees. But the “Replay Official” reviewed the play and overturned the call giving the CATS a first down at the Tribe 6 yard line. On 4th and Goal from the 1 yard line, the CATS went for it, and scored on a Whitney sneak to take their first lead 14 – 13 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the game.

With the defense rested, the CATS were able to force the Tribe offense into a 3 and out. VU got the ball back but was only able to eat up 3 minutes and punted the ball back to the Tribe. However, the Tribe suffered another 3 and out and punted the ball back to VU.

With 5:41 remaining, VU would run the ball, mixing in a couple of passes, and eat clock. The Tribe would not get the ball again for the remainder of the game. The CATS took a knee at the 1 yard line letting the time expire.

The Tribe did a lot of things right this game. They did not allow VU to get out to a fast start. They contained VU’s offense and only allowed VU to score 14 points, just a little over their defensive average of 12. For 3 quarters the Tribe had won. However, it was that all important 4th quarter where the game got away from them and the Tribe could not respond against the equally talented VU defense. It’s a shame when you have two very good teams playing; one of them has to lose. Both of these programs, the coaches, players, and universities you like to root for. William & Mary, I don’t stand alone in saying job well done. The CAA and the rest of the FCS community will be looking for another Tribe run into the Semi’s and maybe beyond in 2010.

As for Villanova, Montana awaits.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW

#1 Montana (14 – 0) @ #2 Villanova (13 – 1) @ 8:00

TV: ESPN2, ESPN2HD, ESPN360.COM

Series: First Meeting

In 2008, Montana blew into Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg and took down the #1 seeded Dukes when it was said that the Grizzlies could not win on the road. The following week in the National Championship game, the Grizzlies were manhandled by the Richmond Spiders. The Spiders were the #3 team out of the CAA South division. The #2 team in the South of the CAA in 08 was Villanova.

Since that defeat at the hands of Richmond, Montana has not lost another game. They have returned to Chattanooga to right a wrong. This time the Grizzlies are determined make their mark at the expense of the Wildcats.

Villanova has never reached the Championship game before. This is unfamiliar ground. Coach Talley stated the CATS have been knocking on the door. This time the door has been opened. Nova simply has to enter and take care of business.

This game is your typical EAST vs. WEST matchup. Power vs. Power, Speed vs. Speed, Talent vs. Talent.

Villanova’s offensive line is led by pro prospect Jr. LT, Ben Ijalana (Hainesport, NJ). Ijalana is 6’4, 320 and CBSSPORTSLINE has him ranked as the 14th OT in his class and projects him to be drafted in the 4th or 5th round.

Ijalana will be joined by LG, Jr., Brant Clouser, 6’3, 290 (Altoona, Pa.), C, Sr., Brian Brannigan, 6’3, 290 (Clementon, NJ), RG, Fr., Dan Shirey 6’2, 280 (Feasterville, Pa.), RT, Sr., Jonathan Bugli, 6’5, 295 (Newburyport, Ma.). The Villanova offensive line has helped produced 3,253 rushing yards for VU this season at an average of 232.4 yards per game. VU’s total offensive yards are 5,291 for an average of 377.9 ypg. VU averaged 32 points per game. VU has scored 81% of the time they were in the RED Zone. Playmakers in the backfield are QB, Whitney, WR/KR Szczur, RB’s, Jr Aaron Ball (Los Angeles, Ca), Angelo Babbaro (Canfield, Oh), and Sr., Tony Cianci (Brookhaven, Pa). At WR, the Cats have the human hi-lite in Harvey, who is complimented by Rs. Fr., Dorian Wells (Covina, Ca.), So., Norman White (Hammonton, NJ), and So., Mikey Reynolds (Moorestown, NJ).

The Villanova defense is very stingy in only allowing an average of 13.6 points per game, 67.2 average rushing yards per game, 240.8 average passing yards per game for a total of 308 yards per game. VU had 7 defensive players make the CAA “All Conference” team, with two, Sr. DE, Tim Kuckuka (Wall, NJ), and Jr. LB, Terence Thomas (Plainsboro, NJ) making the 1st team. Kuckuka is also a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. The defense has also been credited with 38 sacks and 18 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries, 12 forced fumbles, and 3 blocked kicks.

Montana’s offense averaged 36.9 points per game, rushed for 2,343 yards for an average of 167.4, passed for 3,643 for an average of 260.2, for an average total offensive output of 427.6 yards per game. Montana will rely on Jr. QB, Andrew Selle (Billings, MT), Jr.. RB, Chase Reynolds (Drummond, Mt), and Sr., WR, Marc Mariani (Harve, MT) for most of their scoring output.

Defensively, Montana allows an average of 18.7 points per game, 91.4 rushing yards per game, 255.4 passing yards per game, for a total of 346 yards per game. The Grizzlies are led by Sr., LB, Shawn Lebsock (Billings, Mt) with 98 tackles, and Jr. S, Erik Stoll (Sandpoint, ID) with 87 tackles.

While VU may be new to the Championship game, Coach Talley is not new to coaching, having achieved over 200 wins in over 30 years of coaching. Talley and his will to succeed, “Perseverance through Adversity” pulls this one out for the Wildcats. Villanova 27 - Montana 17.

* * *

+ The University of Richmond has named former assistant, Latrell Scott as their new head coach this past week.

Thank you to JMU graduate, Dave Patterson, and William & Mary class of 68 graduate, Bob Shay for the comments this past week. Kim Thomas and Mark Campbell provided the pictures.

As always, keep the emails coming to CAATODAY@YAHOO.COM, and I’ll get back to them as soon as I can.

CAATODAY Signing off.