Villanova's football team is no stranger to hostile settings. In the 2008 FCS quarterfinals, the Wildcats lost late at top-ranked James Madison. Last October, they won late at No. 1 Richmond, en route to a national-title run.
Tomorrow figures to be no different.
The Wildcats, who now sit atop the poll, are at No. 7 William & Mary. Both teams are 3-1, 1-0 in the Colonial Athletic Conference, which, at the moment, claims exactly half of the top 14. The only one Villanova doesn't play is Massachusetts. So this is simply a step, the first real one within its neighborhood.
But the Wildcats understand what they're heading into, that this is likely the game for a team they've beaten six consecutive times, including twice last season. The second, of course, was a 1-pointer in the semifinals on the Main Line.
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"The Tribe is going to be extremely excited," coach Andy Talley said. "But we've been in the fire. It's a must game for them, and us. That's what this league is about.
"If you want to be good in any league, but especially ours, you have to be able to win on the road. It'll be very difficult. We have to carry our pedigree, through four quarters. So it is a defining moment for the 2010 team, to see if we have it. Because if you look at the league, it's a little ridiculous."
The Wildcats might be without Matt Szczur, who injured his ankle early in last week's 22-10 win over Penn. Yet nobody is going to feel sorry for them if he can't go. The word is that Villanova still plans on showing up.
"The most important game is always the next one," senior linebacker Terence Thomas said. "They want us real bad. That's all we've been hearing since last year. I'm sure they're not the only team that feels that way. But it's the one we're playing this week. There'll be some electricity in the air. You try to treat every game the same, but certain opponents do stand out a little more.
"We know they can embarrass us if we don't do what we need to do. If we want to be great, this is when you have to show it. We've been in these situations. That obviously helps your confidence. It's not like we hope we can win. We know we can. But we still have to go out and get it done. It doesn't just happen because we're the 2009 champions. That was last year. This whole season's going to be a dogfight. It's not supposed to be easy.
"This team hasn't accomplished anything yet. We have things to prove, our own legacy to build. Last year was great. But, at some point, you get tired of hearing about it. It's time to move on if we want to get back to that level. Being No. 1 is a blessing. But we really try not to pay attention to that stuff. In our league, anybody can beat you on any given day."
This will be Villanova's 14th trip to Zable Stadium in Wiliamsburg, Va. The Wildcats went 1-9-1 in the first 11. But Villanova won there in 2006 (35-31) and '08 (38-28). The 'Cats have averaged 36.7 points against the Tribe in the last decade.