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With John Robertson hurt, Villanova backup QB steps into starting role

Star QB was hurt in last week's game, so Zach Bednarczyk is taking over as Wildcats host Penn.

SO HOW MANY quarterbacks ever had a better start to their careers than Villanova's Zach Bednarczyk?

The redshirt freshman had to come in cold Saturday after four-year starter John Robertson, the 2014 Walter Payton Award winner, injured his knee late in the fourth quarter with the Wildcats trailing visiting Delaware by seven. And all Bednarczyk did was throw a 6-yard touchdown pass on his second play, on a fourth-and-4 (they missed the conversion kick).

When the Wildcats got the ball back, he led them on a 71-yard, six-play, game-winning drive. Even scored the TD on a 21-yard scramble, his only carry, with 2 1/2 minutes left. Then he also ran it in for the two-pointer.

Kind of makes you wonder what he could possibly do for an encore.

The story line resumes tonight at 7 when Villanova (2-1), the fifth-ranked team in FCS, hosts Penn, which opened under new coach Ray Priore with a 42-21 loss at Lehigh.

"I had a pretty good role model," acknowledged Bednarcyk, a 6-1, 200-pounder who led DePaul Catholic to a Non-Public Group 2 New Jersey state championship. "I don't think there was anything that could have really prepared me for that (situation). It's just a spur-of-the-moment thing. You've got to be ready.

"I'm excited just to get back on the field and play again. It's been a while since I actually started a game. But you never want it to happen like that. But that's football. They said when they recruited me that I was probably going to have to wait for my turn. You never want to see anyone get hurt, especially such a great player. But that's why you have to be ready, just in case something does happen. You always know that if his helmet comes off, or his shoe falls off, you might have to hop in there for one play. Now, it's a little different."

Robertson is out indefinitely with a complete tear of his right posterior cruciate ligament. He elected to forgo undergoing surgery at this time, in hopes that rehab alone might get him back late in the season. But even that might be a longshot. So for practical purposes, Bednarczyk is the new man, for a team that had serious ambitions. Maybe they still should.

"They've had a myriad of great quarterbacks they've rolled out," said Priore, Penn's former longtime defensive coordinator. "One is a carbon copy of the other. The bottom line is, they're winners. They're people who want the ball in their hands, and they do a great job with it. Obviously, when you lose a quarterback that has a whole page dedicated to him in the media guide, it takes a toll. You look at some of those stats. But they have a guy in line to take charge and move on.

"They have a system that really plugs the next person in. I can probably go back and have plays logged on my blackboard from '97 that they still run when they need to run it. And they're just, like, 'OK, what page do we go to?' They're going to do what they do. They have talented kids. So the thought process is to defend Villanova. He is new, under the gun, with a short week and everything else. But he's been prepped. They have a mindset. Other than game experience, it's the same challenge."

It's easy to forget Robertson actually was beaten out for the starting job. Not once, but twice. And until he finally got the chance, the Wildcats probably didn't know exactly what they had in him. Bednarczyk was supposed to be his successor. And because their only other scholarship QB got injured in training camp, the only body left behind him is a walk-on.

"We'll really have the same game plan for Zach as we had with John," said coach Andy Talley. "It's just that Zach doesn't have the command of the offense. John's got three treasure chests of knowledge. Zach, not so much. He had a great spring (when Robertson sat out), took all the reps. We just have to be very careful about how we use him. We don't really have a backup with any experience."

So how was Bednarczyk able to do what he did under all that pressure in his debut?

"He's a gunslinger," Talley said. "I think we'd all like to have a guy like that. He didn't even warm up. We just shot him in and off he went. I don't know a lot about him in that way, to be candid. He's just a baller. A pretty hard-core, crusty dude. I'm hoping he'll step up and keep his mistakes to a minimum."

After this game, which was moved up two days because of Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia, the Wildcats get their lone bye before hosting William & Mary on Oct. 10 in what could be a pivotal Colonial Athletic Association matchup. Then again, aren't many of them?

That means Bednarczyk won't play on the road until Oct. 17 at Towson. By then, we could have a much better idea of how well he can play. Bednarczyk can't make it happen by himself. Sometimes, even Robertson couldn't. But without some noticeable production from that position, the Wildcats will have a much tougher time being a factor come November.

"I'm taking all the reps now, which helps with the chemistry," Bednarczyk said. "I was still watching film before. I'm watching more now. It's just different. Things have changed. It's sunk in. Everyone's saying, 'Hey, man, it's your team now.' It's my time to take over and do what I came here to do. I just have to do it sooner than I thought.

"(John and I) have a really good relationship. I think that's going to help so much. Like today in practice, he was giving me a tip on this one play that he would normally do. He'll ask me a question, to see if I know what to look for. I'm still learning. He's been there. Everyone else is still going to do their job. As long as I don't do anything too drastic, just keep to the plan, we should be fine ... I really didn't have time to be nervous. I had the headset on, saw John go down and that was it. I handed the headset to the third-string quarterback and ran out there. We all have scholarships. So get in there and play."

Bednarczyk is a lefthander, which is something Talley's never had before. Other than that ...

"They asked me on a certain play if I'd rather go left instead of right, but I'm not too picky about that," he said. "I don't have a problem turning my shoulder around if I'm rolling to the right. I think I could run similar to John, but I'm not sure how many attempts I'll get. They have to keep me healthy. We'll see. If I get the opportunity, I guess we'll find out. I haven't run in a while, either. I run against our defense in practice, but they don't tackle me."

Well put. And he's only just begun.


Who: Penn at Villanova

When: 7, tonight Villanova Stadium

TV: None. Radio: WTEL (610 AM), WNTP (990AM).

Records: Penn 0-1, Villanova 2-1

History: Villanova leads, 14-5, having won 14 straight since 1980. Penn has lost the last three by a

combined 100-21.

About Penn: Quakers and first-year coach Ray Priore opened with a 42-21 loss at Lehigh ... A bunch of young guys played well ... They were hurt by the punting game ... Alek Torgersen passed for 336 yards and two scores ... Justin Watson had 10 catches for 143 yards, and Tre Solomon rushed for 89 yards ... Colton Moskal, a Syracuse transfer, had 11 tackles ... Next week they play their Ivy League and home opener against Dartmouth.

About Villanova: Wildcats, ranked fifth in FCS, rallied for third straight year to beat Delaware, 28-21 ... They lost QB John Robertson indefinitely with a knee injury ... Redshirt freshman Zach Bednarczyk, who came in late to throw for a TD and run the game-winner, is the new starter ... Didn't run the ball well against Blue Hens, who ran it well against them ... Field-goal kicking has been an issue ... Are off next week before hosting William & Mary on Oct. 10.