It may not seem like one play would be crucial in a football game which wound up 31-0.
But it certainly appeared that way in Villanova’s resounding Colonial Athletic Football Association victory over the University of Maine at Villanova Stadium in Pennsylvania on Saturday afternoon.
With its fourth straight win over UMaine, Villanova improved to 4-2 overall, 2-1 in the CAA. UMaine fell to 1-3, 0-3.
Villanova was leading 7-0 with 8:42 left in the second period but the Black Bears had marched down to Villanova’s three-yard line and were on the verge of tying the game.
Drew Belcher replaced starting quarterback Chris Ferguson for the purpose of running the football but he fumbled it and freshman safety Jaquan Amos scooped it up and ran 99 yards to transform what could have been a 7-7 tie into a 14-0 lead.
Senior cornerback Malik Reaves forced the fumble, one of six turnovers on the day for the Black Bears.
Amos’ return tied the Football Championship Subdivision record for a fumble return. He is just the third person to return a fumble 99 yards.
“We were in cover-2 so I was pressing the receiver,” said Amos on the Villanova website. “He took an outside release so as soon as I turned my head, the ball was there. I saw the ball on the ground, I grabbed it and was off to the end zone.”
Things went even further downhill for the Black Bears moments later.
On the next drive, Reaves intercepted a Ferguson pass and returned it eight yards to the UM-40.
Backup redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Schetelich, playing in place of the injured Zach Bednarczyk, completed a 29-yard pass to Jack Boomer before Taurus Phillips finished off the two-play drive with an 11-yard TD run to make it 21-0.
“After the fumble return for the touchdown, it seemed like we were never able to recover after that for sure,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak on the Villanova website. “We have got to battle back. It’s my responsibility to fix that. I take full accountability as a head coach. It’s my fault and we have to fix it.”
Villanova had taken a 7-0 lead on Schetelich’s 20-yard TD pass to Todd Summers midway through the first period.
It didn’t get any better in the second half as a Rasaan Stewart interception of a Ferguson pass set the Wildcats up at the UM-32 in the third quarter and Schetelich capped the three-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to make it 28-0.
Transfer Max Staver came on to replace Ferguson for the next series and he was intercepted by Trey Johnson at the V-11 yard line.
UMaine’s offensive struggles continued and the Wildcats added a 46-yard field goal from Drew Kresge with nine minutes left in regulation.
Staver did engineer a seven-play, 54-yard drive later in the final period but linebacker Ed Shockley forced a Jaquan Blair fumble and Stewart recovered at at the V-18.
The Wildcats had four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
UMaine was held to 227 total yards and running back Josh Mack, who entered the game with a league-best 167.3 rushing yards per game average, was limited to 22 yards on 18 carries by the conference’s best rushing defense (56.8 yards allowed per game).
“They’re a good team. They’re well-coached. I have a lot of respect for them,” said Harasymiak. “I just think we played the way we didn’t want to play today.
“Give them credit. They do a lot of things offensively that are challenging such as motions. Their defense is one of the top defenses in the conference.
“But our performance was awful and embarrassing,” he added.
He also said when a team turns the ball over six times on the road in a conference game, “you’ll get chewed up and that’s what happened today,” said Harasymiak.
Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante said, “If you had told me that was going to be the outcome of the game, I would have never believed you.
“If you get six turnovers in your favor, that’s usually what the score is going to look like. To everybody’s credit, our team came ready to play. I’m really proud and really pleased with the way we played today.”
UMaine’s defense limited the Wildcats to 219 total yards but the turnovers led to 28 points.
A blocked punt paved the way for the game-opening TD pass from Schetelich to Summers.
Aaron Forbes rushed for a game-high 63 yards on 14 attempts and Justin Covington added 49 on 10 trips. Schetelich completed just 3-of-8 passes for 61 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked five times before suffering an injury early in the fourth quarter. He didn’t return.
Ferguson completed 15 of 24 passes for 138 yards. He was intercepted three times. Staver was 8-for-17 for 73 yards. He was intercepted once.
Jaleel Reed had six catches for 85 yards. Blair and Josh Mack each caught four balls and All-CAA receiver Micah Wright had three receptions for 39 yards in his season debut after missing the first three games due to suspension.
Reaves, Stewart and Shockley were each involved in nine tackles for Villanova while UMaine linebacker Jaron Grayer had a game-high 11 tackles. Kayon Whitaker and Taji Lowe were in on eight tackles each and Whitaker and Alejandro Oregon each had two sacks.
UMaine will entertain the University of Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2) on Homecoming next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.