Villanova still in search of first win in league play
Life doesn’t get any easier this week for the Villanova Wildcats.
After consecutive losses to nationally ranked Stony Brook and Maine, by a grand total of five points, the ‘Cats return home to face a James Madison team that won the FCS title in
2016, lost in the final last year and has won or shared the last three Colonial Athletic Association titles.
That, though, is only part of the story.
For the first time in nearly three years the sixth-ranked Dukes (4-2 overall, 2-1) are coming off a loss in the league. Elon snapped JMU’s 20-game CAA winning streak when Avery Jones caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Davis Cheek with 1:27 to play to give the Phoenix a 27-24 comefrom-behind victory last Saturday.
It was JMU’s first league loss since a 44-41 decision to William & Mary on Oct. 31,
“I’m sure they’ll come in here pretty fired up coming off of a loss,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. “I think our guys will, too. Am I shocked they lost? No, in this league, it can happen on any given week.”
The Wildcats, though, have bigger concerns than dealing with a ticked off James Madison squad Saturday (1 p.m.) at Villanova Stadium.
The Wildcats (3-3, 0-3) are still in search of their first league win and again are fighting the injury bug, specifically at quarterback. Redshirt senior Zach Bednarczyk did not play in last week’s loss to Maine due to a shoulder injury and his status for Saturday once again could be a game-time decision.
“Last week he didn’t really practice or put the pads on,” Ferrante said. “Yesterday and today he had the pads on and he’s taking reps in practice. He is throwing the ball, but he’s not full speed. He’s getting better every day and we’re hoping that by the end of the week he can go.”
It’s going to take an overall effort to get Villanova its first league victory. The Dukes are 10th nationally in scoring offense (40.2), third in scoring defense (11.3), sixth in yards per punt return (20.80) and ninth in yards per kickoff return (26.73).
“They’re the cream of the crop in our league so it’s going to be a challenge and I think our guys are up for it,” Ferrante said.
Stevenson at Widener 1 p.m. Saturday
The Pride (3-3, 3-1 MAC) enter homecoming riding a three-game winning streak, but will be without their leading rusher. Donte’ Harrell suffered a season-ending ACL tear in last week’s 41-25 victory at King’s. It was the third straight year Harrell had his season ended with a knee injury.
The injury came a day before he was named as a candidate for the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year award.
“I’m just heartbroken,” Widener coach Mike Kelly said.
As tough as the loss of Harrell is, Widener still has two solid backs in junior Chris Randle and sophomore John Bauer. Randle, the 2016 MAC Rookie of the Year, has rushed for 370 yards and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. In conference play, Randle ranks fourth in rushing yards per game (82.7) and per carry (8.0). Bauer has 221 yards rushing and is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt.
The winning streak has Widener back in the hunt for the MAC title. The Pride is tied for third with Stevenson (4-2,
3-1), one game behind Delaware Valley and Misericordia in the loss column. Stevenson’s only losses have been to nationally ranked Frostburg (No.
6 in coaches poll and No. 5 in
D3football.com rankings) and Delaware Valley (No. 17/22).
“We’re fighting for our playoff life right now,” Kelly said. “If we can win out, we’ll get the automatic bid. That Keystone Cup (against Del Val) at the end of the year will mean something, but right now it’s about going into each week being 0-0. … So here we are playing for what we want to play for at this time of year.”
Delaware Gamecocks at Williamson
1 p.m. Saturday
The Mechanics (5-0) look to remain unbeaten when the host the Gamecocks Saturday. Williamson has been resilient. Its last three wins have been by a total of five points, including last week’s 21-19 victory over Thaddeus Stevens.
The Mechanics needed a blocked field goal by freshman linebacker Gregg Kimmel (Ridley) with a minute to play to seal the victory. Kimmel also had five tackles and a hurry in his first collegiate game and was named USCAA Defensive Player of the Week.
The Gamecocks have won the last two meetings. Williamson’s last victory was a 2216 victory at home in the 2015 season finale.
In other action this weekend, Temple (3-3, 2-0 AAC) looks for its second straight win and fourth in five games when it travels to Navy (23, 1-1) for a 3:30 p.m. showdown with the Midshipmen (CBSSN).
Quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, seen in a game earlier this year against Bucknell, missed last week’s game with a left shoulder injury but has been practicing. His status is still questionable.