TOWSON, Md. — Villanova took the field Saturday evening at Johnny Unitas Stadium, knowing its best wideout (Changa Hodge, foot) and one of the best defensive players in FCS (safety Rob Rolle, ACL) were gone for the season. They also knew that starting running back Matt Gudzak and emerging star tight end Ryan Bell were out for an extended period with knee injuries.
Even with that, Wildcats first-year coach Mark Ferrante knew he had sizzling quarterback Zach Bednarczyk on his side — until he didn't. Barely four minutes into the 24-9 victory over Towson, Bednarczyk, after throwing a fourth-down bullet to extend Villanova's opening possession, was lying in the backfield after his left knee got rolled. Bednarczyk, who had completed 80 of 114 (70.2. percent) passes for 1,021 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in his first four games and was 5 for 7 on the opening drive, eventually walked to the sideline but never returned.
Backup Jack Schetelich finished off the opening 15-play, 75-yard drive with his first career touchdown pass, a 7-yarder to Taurus Phillips. Then, the turnovers began, four in all, three picks and a fumble.
Without so much firepower, Villanova (3-2, 1-1 CAA) was going to have to win the game with its defense, a defense that had held its first four opponents to 60 rushing yards per game, 2.2 per attempt. And it was the defense that did win it, forcing three second-half turnovers, two setting up one-play touchdown drives, short runs by Schetelich.
Offense, in the stadium named for the Baltimore Colts legend who essentially invented modern offensive football, was mostly a rumor. Unitas, who lived just four miles from the stadium in nearby Campus Hills during the early years of his NFL career, died 15 years ago. But his name and legacy lives on in the community.
Villanova's offensive issues were mostly due to the lack of so much talent upon which it had been counting. Towson's problems were mainly because of the Wildcats defense, which held up despite the early turnovers by the offense and limited the Tigers to 44 rushing yards on 32 carries and 246 total yards on 76 plays, just 3.2 yards per play.
"Our defense got us some great turnovers and gave us some short fields in the second half,'' Ferrante said.
Ed Shockley (13) and Malik Reaves (11) combined for 24 tackles as the Cats defense dominated the game, especially against the run.
"I just think that's who we are,'' Shockley said. "We try to be stingy against the run.''
Towson (2-3, 0-2) got its only touchdown after the first of its two second-quarter picks. But the Tigers missed the extra point. A field goal after a long drive to start the second half gave them their only lead, 9-7.
The Cats got a 53-yard kickoff return from Josh McGrigg that led to a 46-yard field goal by Drew Kresge. Then, two fumble recoveries set up the very short-field touchdowns.