With a 21-13 win over Delaware Saturday, Villanova football clinched the CAA championship and an automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs. On Sunday, the FCS Playoff bracket was announced, and Villanova earned the fifth seed and a first round bye. The Wildcats will take on the winner of 8-3 Sacred Heart and 9-2 Holy Cross at Villanova Stadium on Friday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.
“I can't say enough about this team,” head coach Mark Ferrante said after the game Saturday. “I can't say enough about this University. I can't say enough about our leadership, Mark Jackson, our AD, and Father Peter [Donohue], our president. I'm just thrilled to death to be the head coach.”
The Wildcats haven’t won an FCS Playoff game since 2016, when they knocked off St Francis. This will also be Villanova’s first home playoff game since 2016. The Wildcats last advanced to the FCS Playoffs in 2019, when they lost in the first round at Southeastern Louisiana State, 45-44.
“Yeah, I'm happy,” Ferrante said after the bracket was released. “I'm glad we got the bye first round. That's exciting. Our guys will get a couple of days off and be able to spend Thanksgiving with families … so that'll be a nice break for them.”
Ferrante was also looking forward to what will be his first home playoff game since taking over as Villanova’s head coach in 2017.
“It's always exciting to get a playoff home game, so I'm looking forward to it,” Ferrante said. “The students will be back from break since we have the bye... I'm hoping that when everyone gets back from their break, they'll be excited about a football game on Saturday the fourth.”
Although the game was initially announced to be taking place on Saturday, the game was quickly moved to Friday, and Ferrante was excited about the added energy it would bring to the crowd.
“I'm okay with that. I remember we had a night game in 19 [against Southeastern Louisiana]. It was a Friday night versus Saturday night and it did seem like it helped the crowd. It did seem like it helped the energy, and I think our guys were pretty excited about it, just from all the times you're playing in high school, Friday night under the lights, right? And we don't play many games under the lights, so it’ll be a nice change of pace… I'm hoping it'll add to the crowd a little bit.”
Graduate defensive end Malik Fisher was also looking forward to staying at home and having a playoff game at Villanova Stadium, instead of facing a road environment and travel like the team faced in 2019.
“That was a fun experience,” Fisher said. “You know what I mean? You’re flying on the road, you're going to another state, you’re playing somewhere like Louisiana deep down in the South, it feels good. But now, we’re here to handle business. We're not here to have this whole shebang experience and be excited with the bright lights and something like that. No, you need to come here, you need to play us, and we need to handle business and we want to do it at home because that's the most comfortable place to go.”
With either Sacred Heart and Holy Cross, the Wildcats will face one of two programs they know well. Holy Cross finished the season 9-2 and clinched an automatic bid by winning the Patriot League, while Sacred Heart went 8-3 and won the Northeast Conference. Both teams have won six games in a row.
“We'll see what it looks like with two teams that we're fairly familiar with,” Ferrante said. “We've seen them on film before, we've seen them play before. So they're not totally foreign to us, which is hopefully helpful, but we'll get back to work next week and put a game plan together.”
As a fifth year player on a very experienced Villanova roster, Fisher said that the opportunity to compete for an FCS championship was one of the main reasons why he and several other players came back.
“This is what you come back for,” Fisher said. “This isn't Alabama, where you're coming back to go from a third rounder to a first rounder, no, you're coming back to win something with your guys. This is a big part, and this is when you see everything coming together like this, it brings me to peace.”