ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team made Villanova one-dimensional on Saturday afternoon.
In the process, the Black Bears discovered that the Wildcats’ passing attack, too, is formidable.
Sophomore quarterback Zack Bednarczyk found cracks in the UMaine defense to spark 10th-ranked Villanova to a 26-7 Colonial Athletic Association football victory at Alfond Stadium.
Bednarczyk completed 23 of 31 passes for a career-best 326 yards and three touchdowns and was not intercepted. He utilized eight different receivers along the way, with Jarrett McClendon catching six passes for 91 yards.
Villanova completed six passes of at least 22 yards with a long of 42.
“He knows how to work their system,” UMaine linebacker Sterling Sheffield said of Bednarczyk. “He made some key passes, some deep balls that hurt us.”
The Wildcats (7-2, 5-1 CAA) improved their Football Championship Subdivision postseason hopes, while the Black Bears (5-4, 4-2 CAA) had a five-game winning streak halted and likely will have to win their last two games to have a shot at the playoffs.
Despite averaging 225 rushing yards per game, Villanova managed only 94 yards on the ground. But the Black Bears surrendered several long pass plays that led to scores.
UMaine was likewise unable to mount a consistent run attack, finishing with 99 yards behind freshman tailback Josh Mack (10 carries, 61 yards). And it was unable to make up the difference through the air as senior QB Dan Collins completed only 18 of 35 passes for 235 yards and was intercepted four times, including twice in the end zone and once at the goal line.
Rob Rolle made two interceptions for Villanova, which picked off Collins twice in the end zone and once at the 1-yard line.
“That’s just bad decision-making,” a subdued Collins said of his mistakes. “Bad decision-making. Bad plays by me.”
Wideout Micah Wright caught eight balls for 99 yards to pace UMaine, which went 0-for-5 in the red zone. Villanova converted all four of its chances.
“We were 0-for-5 in the red zone. That’s brutal,” said UMaine coach Joe Harasymiak.
Villanova’s 10-0 halftime lead was quickly slashed to three. UMaine freshman Earnest Edwards electrified the crowd by eluding several would-be tacklers on his way to a 97-yard kickoff return.
Patrick Leonard’s PAT made it 10-7.
However, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play and a 20-yard return, the Wildcats responded in six plays as Gerard Smith booted a career-long 43-yard field goal to push the lead back to six.
UMaine answered by driving to the VU 3, but a poor shotgun snap helped stall a drive that ended when Sheffield was sacked on a reverse as part of a fake field goal. Harasymiak opted not to kick it after Leonard missed a 24-yarder in the second quarter.
“Missing the field goal early, there’s not a lot of confidence in that,” Harasymiak said.
Villanova scored touchdown drives on each of its next two possessions to put the game out of reach.
Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga led the UMaine defense with 10 tackles and Pat Ricard made eight, including five for a loss. Jeff Steeb’s eight tackles paced the Wildcats.
Villanova’s defense gave up some yardage, but posted its fourth first-half shutout in its last five games.
UMaine threatened on its initial possession of the contest, thanks two two long passes. On a third-and-goal from the 8, Collins threw into double coverage in the back of the end zone and was intercepted by Jason Ceneus.
The Wildcats broke the scoreless tie five minutes into the second quarter with an eight-play, 62-yard drive that featured a 42-yard pass from Bednarczyk to Taurus Phillips.
Villanova stalled, but Smith booted a 42-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
The Black Bears appeared poised to score midway through the second quarter after Jarrett McClendon muffed a punt and Sheffield recovered at the Villanova 17.
UMaine could manage only one first down. Leonard lined up for a 24-yard field goal, but missed wide left at the 3:47 mark.
With 2:12 left in the half, UMaine took over at its own 29 after a punt, but on the first snap Collins lofted a high pass into the waiting arms of Rolle.
Bednarczyk then engineered a six-play, 69-yard march, keyed by a 34-yard completion to Changa Hodge. Five plays later, Bednarczyk hit Brandon Chadbourn in the end zone for a 17-yard TD with 11 seconds remaining.