At 10-2, Villanova was granted a breather by the FCS playoffs committee; the number-six seeding in the playoff bracket, which guaranteed the team a week off during the first round, and the chance to host at least one game at Villanova Stadium.
It wasn't easy for the Wildcats. "It was a tough road here, I can tell you that," head coach Andy Talley said of the season. Saturday's win over Delaware underlined that fact.
"In this game, you can never score enough points," he explained. His team led by 20 points after the start of the second half, but still needed a late scoring drive to take down their rivals -- 68 yards, 10 plays and a 21-yard pass to Kevin Gulyas. A missed extra point earlier in the game meant that the 'Cats went for two on the attempt, with John Robertson completing the conversion with a toss to Poppy Livers.
"It was one of those storybook finishes that you have to have in a special year," the coach stated.
Even so, things weren't all magical for the Wildcats. Linebacker Dillon Lucas went down at the end of a long interception return in the waning moments of the first half. "I think Dillon is done for the season," Talley noted, "we're having his knee looked at today."
It was another sad state of affairs in Lucas' injury-marred career on the Main Line. His classmate Kevin Monangai, who will graduate this Spring, was dismayed by the injury.
"We're definitely going to try to make this run for him," Monangai said of Lucas.
The week off means that the Wildcats will get a chance to go home for Thanksgiving, as well.
"We give them today [Monday] off. We're going to practice Tuesday and Wednesday morning," Talley offered. Players will be able to leave after Wednesday's obligations, and will return to campus on Sunday to begin preparing for their game.
"It's very important," Monangai said of the time off, "I'm very blessed to be injury free . . . a lot of guys will be using this time to rehab and get their legs back under them."
While the players rest and enjoy Thanksgiving with their families or friends, the coaches will be looking at film and planning.
"We'll look at both teams and put a preliminary game plan together for both of them," the head coach explained of their week's planning. After Saturday's games, they'll take another look at the winning team.
Who will Andy Talley be rooting for on Saturday?
"I prefer to play the team from out of the CAA, candidly," he explained, picking Liberty University over JMU if he had the choice. "It's so tough to play and beat a team two times in a season." The Wildcats hosted both New Hampshire and William & Mary on their 2009 playoff run -- a second-meeting in both games.
Not to mention that JMU looks a lot different now than they did on September 20th.
"They came on strong with Vad Lee after we beat them."
Villanova has been through the gauntlet, however, so Talley thinks they can find a way to win, regardless. "We're very battle-tested," he explained.
Quarterback John Robertson is a big reason why they were able to win 10 games and qualify for a first-round bye. With both his legs and his arm, this season, the junior signal-caller was key for the Wildcats.
"His statistics are startling," Talley gushed over his Walter Payton candidate. "He has the highest QB rating in the country . . . Ask any coach we've played against, he puts the feat of God into you. We have a great supporting cast, but he is an elite quarterback who has carried our team."
That isn't to downplay the role of that supporting cast -- especially when some of those other players get going.
"I think it is a very important thing. From the perspective of a defensive coordinator, it's a frustrating thing to have a running back you have to concentrate on, and then you have a QB who can gash you as well," Monangai offered.
Monangai was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2012, when the team made their last playoff appearance -- a loss on the road at Stony Brook. "Every down counts," he said of what they learned from that loss. "I think Stony Brook had a lopsided time of possession."