This is how life has been going for first-year Villanova football coach Mark Ferrante, who waited only an entire career to get this opportunity: Before last week’s game against Maine, junior guard Louie Csaszar, a three-year starter, became the latest addition to the team’s lengthy casualty list.
During a no-pads drill in practice, a teammate locked helmets with him, pushing his face mask into his cheek and breaking several bones around his eye and nose. He sat out, and will also miss Saturday afternoon’s game at top-ranked James Madison, the defending FCS national champion. His replacement is a redshirt freshman. The new backup is a true freshman.
And so it has gone.
“At a certain point, it’s kind of comical,” said senior defensive lineman Ricky Young, a product of Souderton High School. “We know people are going to get hurt. But we weren’t expecting to lose this many people in such key roles.
“A lot of the injuries have just been freak accidents. You’re like, ‘Really?’ It’s laughable, you know, but it definitely wasn’t funny. At first you’re going, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Then you have to go out and keep playing. That’s the only thing you can do.”
The No. 11 Wildcats (4-2, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) have lost by three to Temple (3-3) on a late field goal and in overtime at Albany (3-3, 1-2). Three of their last four games are at home, against No. 16 Elon (5-1, 3-0), Richmond (3-2, 1-1) and Delaware (3-2, 1-1). This week, they’re on fall break. Next week they’re off. The remaining road trip is to Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2) on Nov. 11. All of which means … ?
“It’s still up to us who we want to be and where we want to go,” Young insisted. “After Albany we looked at each other and said, ‘It’s not over.’ We’ve still got things out there for us. Our goals haven’t changed. We want to win a championship. This is a conference game. So there’s obviously a lot of implications.”
Even with a loss, they’ll remain in the playoff picture. An 8-3 record would at the very least get them a first-round home game. But probably not a bye. At 7-4 they’d be on the bubble. And they’ve never got in with more than three losses.
The Dukes (5-0, 2-0), who are coming off a bye, have won 17 straight. They opened with a 20-point win at FBS East Carolina. They haven’t lost to an FCS opponent since the 2015 playoffs, which was also the last time they lost at home. Villanova hasn’t won in Harrisonburg since 2009, when it won the national title.
Did we mention that ESPN’s College GameDay will be there, for the second time in three years? Wonder whether Lee Corso will have a Wildcat mascot head available to put on when he makes his prediction, just in case?
“Hopefully, we’ll perform at a high level,” Ferrante said. “It’s louder than most stadiums we play in. It’s been sold out for a couple of weeks. I think they’ll have over 25,000. Whether they’re rooting for you or against you, it gets you juiced up.”
Obviously, not many are giving the Wildcats much of a shot. They lost a good portion of their wide receivers either during camp or early in the season. On Sept. 23 at Albany they lost safety Rob Rolle and tight end Ryan Bell, two of their best players, in the first half. Neither is coming back. Ditto running back Matt Gudzak, their leading rusher at the time, who went down on the final play.
Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, a three-year starter, went out on the opening series two weeks ago at Towson. It was hoped that he might be able to return at some point but now he too is done after undergoing knee surgery this week. So redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich will get his second start. Next in line could be true freshman Kyle McCloskey (Germantown Academy).
Kind of makes you wonder what might be coming next.
“You can’t think like that,” Young said. “If you play not to get hurt, that’s when you get hurt. You have to be ready to be the next guy in. Everyone has to buy into that. You keep chugging along. Just because someone goes down doesn’t mean everything falls apart.”
It does make things more difficult, at least from an outsider’s perspective. For whatever that’s worth.
“We don’t really get into what other people think we should do or how we should play,” Young added. “It comes down to approach. You can’t get crazy just because they’re the top team. Everyone’s going to have to step up that little bit …
“We know we have to play really well.”
The Wildcats are 3-5 against No. 1s. They haven’t played one since the 2010 semifinals, when they lost at eventual champ Eastern Washington. Two of the wins were on the road, in 2009 at Richmond and the following year at Delaware. Since 2008, they’ve gone 9-4 against Top 5 teams.
Villanova hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in its last eight games. It’s given up 44 points in the last five. It has two shutouts for the first time since 1966.
JMU, which won here a year ago by 20-7, is averaging 289 yards rushing a game.
“They happen to be No. 1, whatever that means,” Ferrante said. “We don’t talk about it, honestly. We talk about the next opponent, whoever that is. We’re excited because it’s another league game. That adds a little more to it.”
Villanova at James Madison
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Va.
TV: None. Radio: 610 Sports (WTEL-AM)
Records: Villanova 4-2, 2-1 CAA; JMU 5-0, 2-0.
History: JMU leads, 14-11.
Last meeting: JMU won here last year, 20-7.
– Villanova has won two straight, at Towson and against Maine at home, by a combined 55-9.
– The Wildcats forced nine turnovers in those games. They also partially blocked two punts last week, and on a third one forced the punter to run that resulted in a fourth-down stop.
– They’ve posted two shutouts in a season for the first time since 1966.
– They’re playing a No. 1 team for the first time since the 2010 national semifinals. They’re 3-5 all-time against top-ranked opponents.
– They haven’t given up a touchdown through the air in the last five games (188 total pass attempts). And haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last eight.
– Redshirt freshman Jack Schetelich will get his second career start at quarterback. Three-year starter Zach Bednarczyk, who was injured on the opening series two weeks, underwent knee surgery this week.
– Freshman safety Jaquan Amos returned a fumble 99 yards against Maine, which set a program record and tied an FCS record. He was called for a targeting penalty in the second half and will by rule have to sit out the first half of this one.
– JMU has won 17 straight, the longest streak in Division I. The defending national champions haven’t lost to an FCS opponent since the 2015 playoffs, which was also the last time they lost at home.
– Averages 41 points and 517 yards offense. They rush for 289 a game.
– Bryan Schor has thrown for 1,031 yards, 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He was injured in last year’s game.
– ESPN College GameDay will be in Harrisonburg, for the second time in three years.