"Being at home, your comfort zone is so much better," head coach Andy Talley said about the Wildcats playoff run. After quarterfinals opponent Sam Houston State managed an upset last Saturday, Villanova's playoff homestand was extended at least one more game. The Wildcats have played well at Villanova Stadium in the postseason, with an all-time 8-1 record in such games.
"When you get into the top-eight [teams in the FCS playoffs] . . . I tell them, you're now where the air is rare," he continued. "Every little edge is important.
"The margin of error is very thin."
It was especially important on Saturday, where an energized Liberty team had an early advantage over the Wildcats, scoring quickly on the opening possession and then again soon after. The 'Cats didn't seem truly in control of the game until their seven-plus minute drive at the end of the Fourth Quarter that led to the go-ahead score.
"Our defense really saved us. We turned the ball over four times," Talley explained. "I felt fortunate to come out of that game with a win against a team as good as us."
"We played in a monsoon, it was horrendous weather," he continued. The damp conditions certainly contributed to a couple of key dropped passes and mistakes. "We played poorly in the first half," he said, noting that the week off over Thanksgiving may have hurt the team.
"It helped us late, though, because we had our legs."
The other factor that helped Villanova late in the game, was the presence of superstar quarterback John Robertson. He has been the spark plug for the Wildcats offense, passing the ball well all season and running for 100 yards every game he played this season without a cast on his non-throwing hand (except for the Fordham game where his hand was broken). He is one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award for the subdivision's top player.
"I think it would be the only school in the country to have three, if John would win it."
With the victory, the Wildcats move on to host unseeded Sam Houston State on Saturday at 1:00pm. The BearKats are now coached by a familiar face -- former Delaware coach KC Keeler.
"It's always great to see K.C. back in the business," Talley said. SHSU has around twenty players who transferred from FBS schools this season, a strategy that has allowed Keeler to rebuild that program in a hurry. The Kats (with a "K") lost two consecutive FCS title games to NDSU after the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Villanova will have their hands full, preparing for what should be another very talented opponent.
The 'Cats had a couple of injuries on Saturday, Jake Prus felt his ankle injury worsen during the early-going of the game and had to come out in favor of back-up center Peter Sotiriou, who was playing guard for the first time this season. Prus is not expected to play this week.
Cameron McCurry was the other notable injury. He will undergo a series of tests this week as part of Villanova's concussion protocol, which requires a player to show no signs or symptoms of the concussion within 48 hours after the game. Even if he is cleared, it is unlikely that McCurry will practice with the team this week.