Starting your first football game in college as a true freshman can be a daunting challenge.
Especially if you are a quarterback. And if you are playing for a Football Championship Subdivision team against larger Football Bowl Subdivision program.
That is the task facing Joe Fagnano on Saturday night when he leads the University of Maine into a 6 p.m. contest against Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
He replaces junior and three-year starter Chris Ferguson, who sprained his foot in the second quarter of Saturday’s 24-17 loss to Richmond.
Fagnano stepped in and completed 10 of 16 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball 12 times for 54 yards, including a 37-yard run.
However, he also was sacked four times, fumbled a snap on first-and-goal from the 6-yard line on the final drive, but recovered it, and was intercepted at the goal line two plays later.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton was impressed with Fagnano’s performance.
“Obviously, he would like to have had that [interception] at the end back but, overall, he did a real nice job running the offense,” Charlton said.
“He handled it pretty well. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough at the end of the game, but that wasn’t just Joe,” Charlton said.
With that bit of experience under his belt, this week’s game brings excitement for Fagnano.
“There’s nothing like coming into your first start against an FBS team,” Fagnano said. “It’s exciting. They’re a good football team, and I’m looking forward to going down there and playing them.”
Fagnano is much more mobile than even a healthy Ferguson, which means UMaine’s game plan will be different. And this time, they have a week to prepare knowing Fagnano will be the starter.
“We will tailor things to play to his strengths. That’s important,” Charlton said. “We want to make sure he feels comfortable. It’s a quarterback-friendly offense.”
Fagnano said it was tough seeing Ferguson go down because of his leadership and experience. Once in the game, he admitted thinking “this is big time.”
But he quickly settled his mind.
“It’s football and it is what you’ve done your whole life,” he said.
Fagnano thought he adjusted well, and said the line did a good job protecting him and the receivers ran good routes.
He said Ferguson has been helpful and was providing input throughout the Richmond game.
“He told me what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right. He kept me positive after bad plays and stuff like that,” Fagnano said.
Ferguson has played an important role in his development since he first stepped foot on campus.
Senior wide receiver Jaquan Blair said they are confident with Fagnano calling the signals.
“He made a few plays with his legs, and he had good zip on the ball as well,” Blair said. “He’s a very laid-back kid. He goes out there and has fun. Talent isn’t an issue at all.”
Fagnano, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said he is preparing the same this week as he would if he was backing up Ferguson.
“We all try to get on the same page,” he said.
Fagnano said he can run if needed by is focusing on seeing the reads and making the right decisions with the ball.