2009 Villanova Football Team
Pride of Philadelphia
2009 Division 1 Football Champions
The Hall of Fame presents its annual Pride of Philadelphia award to individuals or teams for “having represented the Philadelphia area with dignity, determination, and class through athletic achievement.” Considering their collective accomplishments, few recipients better exemplify the nobility of the collegiate student-athlete and deserve this honor more than the 2009 Villanova University football team, which won the school’s first national football championship.
These Wildcats were no paper tigers. Villanova finished the 2009 campaign with a 14-1 record, posting their second consecutive 7-1 conference record en route to winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship, which qualified them for their eighth playoff appearance under Coach Andy Talley. Eight of Villanova’s wins came against nationally-ranked opponents, including a 5-1 mark against Top Ten teams.
Talley’s second-seeded Wildcats seemed destined to meet top-seeded Montana, which had lost to Richmond in the finals the previous year, for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championship. After defeating Holy Cross 38-28 in the first round playoff, ‘Nova avenged the only loss of their season by rolling over New Hampshire 46-7 in the quarterfinals. In the national semifinals, Talley rallied his ‘Cats from a ten-point halftime deficit to defeat William & Mary 14-13, when quarterback Chris Whitney scored on fourth-and-goal from the one. Junior wideout Matt Szczur scored Villanova’s first touchdown with a 62 yard run from the “Wildcat” formation.
Villanova next bested previously undefeated Montana 23-21 to win the school’s first FCS championship. Szczur rushed for a career-high 159 yards, and added 68 receiving yards and 43 kick returns to finish with 270 all-purpose yards, for which he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the championship game; he also scored a touchdown for his eleventh straight game. Whitney also rushed for 102 yards, the second time in 2009 that two different Wildcats rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game (the first came against Lehigh in September). Senior tight end Chris Farmer caught the first touchdown pass of his career to put the Wildcats ahead to stay.
“We had momentum and good things were happening and we just wanted to keep riding that,” Talley said after winning the championship game. “Chris Whitney had a phenomenal second half and Matt Szczur showed that he is the best player in our program since Brian Westbrook.”
The 2009 Wildcat squad established school season records for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total offensive plays, yards from scrimmage, and extra points, while averaging 32 points and nearly 380 yards of offense per game. Whitney threw just four interceptions all season, including the playoffs. Szczur led the team with 13 touchdowns, and was the only Division 1 player to have a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, kick return touchdown, and to pass for a touchdown, in 2009. On defense, the Wildcats forced two turnovers per game.
The 2009 Villanova Wildcats stand among the most decorated college football teams in Philadelphia history. In December, Szczur and junior offensive lineman Ben Iljalana were named to the 2009 FCS All-American Team, selected by FCS head coaches and sports information directors. Talley was named FCS National Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), simultaneously receiving the AFCA FCS Region 1 Coach of the Year honor for the second straight season. Talley was named the Colonial Athletic Association 2009 Football Coach of the Year, and selected as a finalist for the FCS National Coach of the Year, the Eddie Robinson Award. Having served as Villanova head coach for more than two decades, Coach Talley now stands as the winningest coach in Colonial Athletic Association history.
At the FCS Championship luncheon, senior long snapper Will Thompson was presented with the inaugural Elite 88 award, a new NCAA academic honor presented to the athlete with the highest cumulative GPA on the site of each one of the NCAA’s 88 championship finals. Thompson was also named to the CAA 2009 All-Academic Team, one of seven Wildcats – along with Angelo Babbaro, Nick Yako, Sean Morrissey, Osayi Osunde, Terence Thomas, and Whitney – to make the list. Team co-captain Osunde was named 2009 CAA Football Student-Athlete of the Year, and was also voted the Villanova Athletic Department’s 2009 Senior Student-Athlete of the Year. “Our motto is pretty much one game at a time, one play at a time, and one step at a time,” said Osunde. We perform that motto day in and day out, and it’s really panned out to be an amazing season.