Photo by Tessa Marie Images
The last couple of weeks of Andy Talley’s Farewell Tour have featured generous compliments from rivals, the bestowing of “Honorary Blue Hen” status upon him, and a ride off the field after Saturday’s win over the University of Delaware that the coach described as “precarious.” Had Villanova followed up last week’s home loss to James Madison University with a goose egg at Delaware, it would have been 7-4 and needing some generosity from the NCAA tournament selection committee to reach the post-season.
Instead, the Wildcats thrashed UD, 41-10. On Sunday, they were rewarded with not only a berth in the playoffs, but also a home game against St. Francis (PA), co-champion of the Northeast Conference and a tourney novice. There are no guarantees in late November, but this is a good setup for the Wildcats, especially since, if they win, they’ll visit South Dakota State, the lowest seeded team of those receiving first-round byes.
This is an extremely fitting conclusion for Talley. He gives Villanova fans one more chance to salute him at home and gets to take one last run at some playoff magic. Talley continues with his self-deprecation about his pending retirement, commenting on his senior citizen status and letting everyone know that at age 73, he is the oldest coach in the tournament. While he has long since ceded much of the direct control of the team to his assistants, particularly Mark Ferrante, who will take over for him next year, Talley’s influence on the program continues to be strong.
In an era when coaches compete to see who can work the longest, harangue their players the loudest and most profanely, and drive their assistants continually crazy, Talley has led Villanova with class and shown that it is possible to win while still maintaining some balance in life. That’s why the extension of his 2016 final ride, at least for one week, is such a good thing. Too many coaches exit the stage on a downturn, their last seasons demonstrating that they should have left earlier. By reaching the playoffs and getting a home game, where he is 8-2 in the post-season, Talley has one more chance to enjoy the preparation, competition and adulation. Villanova is the favorite in the Saturday game, thanks to its 6-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the toughest FCS league in the country, and St. Francis’ lack of playoff experience. After the win over Delaware, Talley said his team was as dangerous as any in the tournament. If QB Zach Bednarczyk can play as efficiently as he did against the Blue Hens, when he passed for 195 yards and four scores on just 17 attempts and added 78 yards rushing, Villanova will indeed be formidable, especially since its defense has been one of the best in the country.
Whatever the result, it’s impossible not to enjoy the next several days, when we can continue our appreciation of one of the best coaches in local college football history, and a man who starred on the national stage, too. The Wildcats’ playoff berth is fun for fans but is made better by the opportunity to salute Talley on the Main Line one more time.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: After Conestoga lost the District One title game to West Chester Henderson on Nov. 5, the Pioneers had three days to regroup after their first loss of the season and get ready for the state tournament. ‘Stoga showed tremendous recuperative powers by whipping Parkland, 2-1, in the opening round and displayed even more grit Saturday in a 1-0 win over Elizabethtown to win the 4A PIAA championship. Chris Donovan scored in the second half off a pass from Nick Jennings, and Luke Smith posted his third straight shutout to secure the victory. It was Conestoga’s first state championship since 2011, and it capped a 25-1 season. Hats off to Merion Mercy Academy’s field hockey team, which reached the 2A state title game before falling, 6-2, to a Donegal thresher that finished the year 29-0 and outscored its rivals 207-14. Before the loss, the Bears had won nine in a row and finished the year 19-5-2. Led by goalie Shannon Bedrossian, MMA entered the matchup against game allowing just 1.18 goals/game and had posted 11 shutouts, including against all of three of its previous PIAA state tourney foes.