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Montana vs. Villanova tonight for FCS title

Photo by Michael Perez

Photo by Michael Perez

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Villanova coach Andy Talley sometimes wears his national championship ring while on recruiting trips -- his basketball national championship ring, that is.

The ring was a gift from the school's basketball team when he was hired in 1985 to rebuild the football program. Twenty-five seasons later, Talley and the Wildcats finally have their first shot at winning the school's first Football Championship Subdivision title when they face Montana on Friday night in Chattanooga.

The second-ranked Wildcats (13-1) couldn't have picked a more dominant opponent.

"I think they've won something like 3,000 conference championships in a row," Talley joked about Montana on Thursday. "They are the only show in town in Montana, and people rally around it much like people do in Pennsylvania with Penn State. We suffer from being in the suburbs in Philadelphia. I think this could have a bigger impact on the Villanova nation."

Actually, the Grizzlies (14-0) have won just 12 Big Sky Conference titles in a row, but they're undefeated for the second time in three seasons after losing last year's title game to Richmond.

They're making their fifth appearance in the national championship game this decade and seventh overall. Despite the regular appearances, Montana has only won the title twice and hasn't won since 2001, two seasons before coach Bobby Hauck took over.

"You can't try to win it any harder than we have in the past," Hauck said. "We're 14-0, we're undefeated, we're No. 1 in the nation, and we'd like to cap that with our 15th win (Friday) night, but we can't work any harder. We can't turn over any more rocks than we have in the past."

Hauck acknowledged that his team made a number of errors in last year's 24-7 loss to the Spiders. After a missed field goal and a few other stalled drives, the Grizzlies were down 21-0 by halftime.

Montana wide receiver and return specialist Marc Mariani said that experience last season is helping him and his fellow teammates remain collected this year.

"We've been here before," he said. "Like coach said, we made a lot of mistakes last year pregame and during the game, and we're trying to make sure those don't happen again this year."

Talley's not convinced Montana has an edge because of its FCS championship experience.

The Wildcats have their own experience with high-pressure games. They faced Football Bowl Subdivision's West Virginia last season, made a 2008 NCAA playoffs appearance and won the 2009 title in the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the toughest FCS conference.

"The best you can hope for is to come in having been battle tested and ready to play a topflight team," he said. "Every game in the tournament is a one-and done situation, so there really is no pressure at this point."

Villanova rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit in last week's 14-13 win over William & Mary. A third-and-7 pass ruled incomplete was overturned by replay, giving Villanova first-and-goal at the 6, and quarterback Chris Whitney scored from a yard out on fourth down with 10:57 left to take the lead.

Montana had its own dramatic semifinals win over Appalachian State at home in the snow. Andrew Selle threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jabin Sambrano with 1:31 left in the game to give the Grizzlies their 24-17 win.

Hauck says the game will come down to which team's quarterback plays better. Selle, a junior, is averaging 192.3 yards passing per game and has thrown 25 touchdowns this season. He also played in one series in last year's FCS championship, experience Hauck hopes will help him.

Villanova's Chris Whitney is averaging 136 yards passing per game and 36.2 yards on the ground. He's thrown only three touchdowns in the Wildcats' offense, which favors the run.

Talley says he has a hard time finding weaknesses while reviewing the games Montana has played this season. Hauck says the feeling is mutual.

"You don't get here without being pretty dang good," he said. "You don't get to this point 15 games in without being a complete football team. They are a complete football team as I hope we are. I hope Andy was right and not pulling your leg."