Two years ago Villanova lost starting quarterback John Robertson, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner, to a knee injury late in the third game. Redshirt freshman Zach Bednarczyk came in cold and rallied the team to a win over Delaware.
But there would be growing pains. The Wildcats, who started the season ranked fourth in FCS, finished 6-5.
Last Saturday night at Towson, they lost Bednarczyk — who'd thrown for six touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing for three scores — on their first series. Untested redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich entered and immediately threw for a TD. He ran for two others in the fourth quarter, both set up by turnovers deep in Towson territory, in a 24-9 victory.
In between was about what you might expect. He went 5-for-5 for 59 yards with three interceptions, though first-year coach Mark Ferrante said the first two were probably tipped and the last was on a deep throw on a third and long that served the same purpose as a punt. Schetelich also had nine carries for 40 yards.
"I didn't even see Zach go down, because it was a [completed pass on] fourth down," he said. "Someone called my name and said go in there. So I ran in. I guess I was playing a little better at first because I wasn't thinking about it. I think I handled getting thrown in like that pretty well. Then you have to go through the game and you starting thinking too much."
He'll get another chance on Saturday afternoon at home against Maine (1-2, 0-2 CAA). The Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) are still ranked 12th, down two spots from where they began but up two from a week ago. Next week, they're at No. 1 James Madison, followed by a bye. There's a hope Bednarczyk could be back by the time they host No. 18 Elon (4-1, 2-0), the surprise of the league if not the nation so far, on Oct. 28.
For the time being, it's in a new guy's hands.
"There was pressure," Schetelich said. "I think anyone would feel that. But this is what I came here for. I've been dreaming about this. I mean, not like this. I know I can do it. Now that I'm up, I have to out and perform like I can.
"I put us in some bad situations. But everyone did a tremendous job of picking me up. It's always nice when that happens. I can't really ask for much more."
His job hasn't been made any easier by the fact that the receivers corps — considered an area of strength back in August — was already decimated by injuries.
"I mean, most of the guys that are in there [now] are the guys I was throwing too during the summer [with the second team]," Schetelich said. "So we have some pretty good chemistry together. We're preparing a game plan around me and what I can do, which is good. I'm getting more comfortable every day. I'm getting help from honestly the whole offense. I was watching film with my center [fifth-year senior Matt Donaghue] so I can tell what he's thinking, making sure we're all on the same page."
This is only the Wildcats' second home game this year. Three of their last four are also on the Main Line. Unless they can pull off the upset at JMU, there's not much wiggle room if they want to get into the 24-team playoff field for the third time in four years. And if they can somehow go 8-3, they could even get a home game. With all the physical setbacks they've had that would be something. So they're still playing for everything, with or without Bednarczyk.
"I went up to him after one interception and said, 'You've got to have a short memory,' " Ferrante explained. "And he goes, 'What interception?' He was that quick. Another time he actually came over to me and went, 'Hey, can you ask [offensive coordinator Sam Venuto] to call more of this?' I told him it would be better if he heard it from you. So he made a suggestion, Sam went with it and he read it and scored off it.
"We tell the guys all the time, 'You don't have to make a huge play.' You have to run the plays we're giving you."
"If we need him to throw 40 times," he added, "We're going to be in trouble."
Just in case, the defense has been stout. Even with the loss of big-time safety Rob Rolle to a knee at Albany.
"Zach's been great," Schetelich said. "Even during the Towson game, when I would make a mistake Zach would be talking to me when I came off even before coach had a chance to talk to me. He's been in this situation. He knows what I'm thinking. He's helped with settling my nerves, making the right choices.
"I've always loved running the ball. I love getting in and getting hit. That sounds weird. I don't really know [how to describe his game]. I guess I would say I'm a dual threat, though it didn't really look like it last week. There's a bunch of plays I could have made. I was going to the right places, but I didn't make the throws. So that's good. My mind was there … It's going to be good."
As if there's any other option.
Saturday, 1 p.m., Villanova Stadium
Radio: 610 Sports (WTEL-AM)
Records: Maine 1-2, 0-2 CAA; Villanova 3-2, 1-1
History: Villanova leads, 11-9, having won last three
Last meeting: Wildcats won last year in Orono, 26-7
—The Wildcats moved up two spots in the FCS Top 25 poll to No. 12.
— They won last week at Towson, 24-9. Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk went down in the first series. He's out for this one, and his status for the rest of the season is to be determined. Redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich threw for an early touchdown and rushed for two late scores. He finished 5-for-15 with three interceptions.
— Tight end Ryan Bell and running back Matt Gudzak, who both injuried their knees in an overtime loss at Albany two weeks ago, will undergo season-ending surgeries.
— This is their second home game, the first time since 2001 that it took until October for them to do that. This is also their first afternoon game in a month.
— They've held their last seven opponents to under 100 yards on the ground.
— Aaron Forbes rushed for a season-high 84 yards on 16 carries. He now leads the team with 284.
— John Hinchen, who averaged 45 yards on five punts, is the CAA Special Teams Player of the Week.
— Next week they're at No. 1 James Madison.
— Maine was off last week, after its game with Central Florida was cancelled.
— Josh Mack is averaging 167 rushing yards a game.
— Freshman Chris Ferguson has thrown for six TDs.
— The Bears have forced 12 turnovers.
— Earnest Edwards averages 28 yards per kickoff return