Taking a page straight out of Hollywood, Villanova’s Zach Bednarczyk saw an All-American quarterback go down Saturday, grabbed his helmet and ran onto the field, then led his team to an improbable victory.
Now, just five days later what can the redshirt freshman do for an encore when he gets the call as the No. 5 ranked in the FCS Wildcats take on local rival Penn in a game moved up from its original Saturday start to accommodate Pope Francis’ visit? Based on the way Bednarczyk rose to the occasion late in the fourth quarter of ‘Nova’s 28-21 win over CAA rival Delaware, he shouldn’t need any Divine intervention.
Taking over when 2014 Walter Payton Award winner John Robertson went down awkwardly with a knee injury that will sideline him indefinitely, the kid from Willington, NJ was spectacular, throwing for 57 yards and a key fourth down touchdown to Kevin Gulyas, then romping 21 yards for the winning score--followed by the two-point conversion with 2:35 left. It all happened so fast, the 6-foot-1, 200 pound Bednarczyk didn’t even have time to think about it.
“I just grabbed my helmet and ran on the field," said Bednarczyk, who’ll be backed up tonight by fellow freshman Bradley Jackson. "My teammates were saying, 'We've got you.’
“I get reps with them every day, so it's not like we're strangers.’’
Still, practice reps are one thing. This was with the game on the line.
“I can't say enough about Zack Bednarczyk," said Talley, who’ll likely have to go without not only Robertson but other key players on both sides of the ball. “To come in cold like that and do what he did is probably as good a quarterbacking job as we've had here in my years.
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“Now, given we have injuries we have a Herculean task with a short week to get ready for this game. We have to get Zack comfortable with the game plan immediately.”
While Gulyas, who got to know Bednarczyk when they roomed together this summer, says he had the utmost confidence in the kid, things figures to be different tonight when he lines up. Not only won’t Bernarczyk be coming in cold, he’ll be facing an opponent that will have prepared specifically for him.
An opponent that might smell a chance to snap a 14-game losing streak vs. ‘Nova that stretches all the way back to 1911 — yes, 104 years. The Quakers will becoming off a 42-21 loss to Lehigh in which quarterback Alek Torgersen threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns.
But Bednarczyk won’t be the only unfamiliar face on the field. For Al Bagnoli to not be there for the Red and Blue, with longtime assistant Ray Priore taking over the reins, will seem particularly strange for Talley.
“He’s my dear friend and a first class guy,’’ said Talley, who’d beaten the new Columbia coach all 13 times they met. ‘Ray’s a good guy, too. I never thought I’d outlast Al, like ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ “The last 10 years we’ve kind of been adversaries
“So looking on the sidelines and Al not being there will be unusual.”
But there won’t be much time for sentiment. Villanova, which dropped its opener to Division-I Connecticut, then won at Fordham, before escaping Delaware in the Battle of the Blue, normally handles Penn. Last year the Wildcats amassed 567 yards offense in a 41-7 rout at Franklin Field. In 2013 it was 34-6. And while the scores have been a bit closer since the rivalry resumed in 1999 for only the second time since Penn made it five in a row back in 1911, the results have been the same.
Still, the Wildcats will take nothing for granted.
“They’re another big, physical team,’’ said ‘Nova linebacker Don Cherry, who leads the Wildcats with 26 tackles —11 unassisted — and two sacks through three games. “But our coaching staff will make sure we’reready.
“We’re expecting a battle.”
For the Quakers, playing their first night game since 2002, to the change the recent script, though, may take a different kind of Hollywood ending.