A week ago, Maine football fans were curious about how true freshman Joe Fagnano would perform in his first start as a college quarterback. Now they’re wondering what he can do for an encore.
Fagnano made Colonial Athletic Association teams take notice by completing 25 of 37 passes for 445 yards and five touchdowns in Saturday’s 59-44 loss at Liberty. He was named the CAA’s Rookie of the Week for that performance, and took home the New England Football Writers’ Association Gold Helmet Award as well.
“I think you always have nerves when you’re in your first game, but those went away quick after the first play,” Fagnano said. “That’s football. During that first drive I started to feel confident. We were moving the ball pretty well and it just started clicking and I was like, ‘OK yeah, I belong here.’
“I thought the coaching staff did a really nice job getting me prepared. Knowing the offense and getting myself on the same page as the wide receivers and the linemen. Really just being one whole unit.”
🎥 - Take a look at all ✋ of Fagnano's touchdown passes from Saturday's game at Liberty, broken down by @DowntownRichK and @BobLucy51‼️— Maine Football (@BlackBearsFB) October 21, 2019
🎥 - ESPN+
📻 - @wvomfm#BlackBearNation | #Elevate | #CAAFB pic.twitter.com/Jq4y94LUmC
Fagnano, listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, was thrust into a starting role when Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson sustained a foot injury during the first quarter of a 24-17 loss to Richmond on Oct. 12. Fagnano got his first taste of college football that day and completed 10 of 16 passes for 157 and one touchdown. He had a pass intercepted at the goal line with 26 seconds to play.
Fagnano became one of three Maine quarterbacks who have thrown for five touchdowns in a game. Ferguson passed for five TDs in last year’s 55-27 victory over Jacksonville State in the FCS playoffs, and Chris Treister had five TD passes during a 41-17 win over Rhode Island in 2009.
Four Maine players had at least five receptions and at least 99 receiving yards against Liberty: Andre Miller (five receptions for 108 yards), Jaquan Blair (eight for 99), Earnest Edwards (six for 127), and Devin Young (six for 106).
“He really executed the game plan throughout the week and showed that he had a very good understanding of it,” Maine coach Nick Charlton said. “I was very impressed. Joe is going to be an excellent player. He played very, very well. He had a couple mistakes. He had an early turnover that led to points, but other than that to create that much offense, to score and finish drives -- he presents defenses with a lot of different issues with his ability. Very, very proud of him. Very proud of our staff for getting him ready.”
Fagnano, who hails from Williamsport, Pa., will have to be ready for Maine’s homecoming game against William & Mary (2-5, 0-3 CAA) on Saturday as well. Maine (2-5, 0-3 CAA) learned Monday that Ferguson’s foot injury will require surgery that will cause him to miss Maine’s five remaining games. It appears Fagnano will be leading the offense for the rest of the season.
Congratulations to Joe Fagnano who has been named the @CAAFootball Rookie of the Week!— Maine Football (@BlackBearsFB) October 21, 2019
🔷 - Most passing yards and total yards by a CAA player this season
🔷 - Most passing yards by a Maine QB since 2009
Details: https://t.co/W2LafDDekF#BlackBearNation | #Elevate | #CAAFB pic.twitter.com/BAwiqmYwNN
Last year Ferguson guided the Black Bears to a 10-4 record and a trip to the FCS semifinals for the first time in the program’s history. He completed 116 of 201 passes for 1,655 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.
Ferguson is the second Maine captain who sustained a season-ending injury this year. Junior linebacker Deshawn Stevens tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg during Maine’s season-opening victory over Sacred Heart.
“I think playing last week that gives me even more confidence going in, because the more reps and the more plays you get under your belt the more comfortable you feel with the guys and the program itself,” Fagnano said. “Nerves were out of me after the first play last game.”
Sacred Heart, Colgate, and Robert Morris were among the schools that recruited Fagnano. He said Maine was the only CAA school that showed interest.
Following Saturday’s game against William & Mary, Maine’s remaining games are all against CAA opponents: Albany (away), Elon (away), Rhode Island (home), and New Hampshire (away). Fagnano said he’ll have to become a team leader despite being a true freshman.
“I think It comes with the position whether you like it or not,” he said. “You gotta run the offense. They’re listening to you — to your checks, to your calls, but we have a lot of guys on this team who are good at being leaders.
“It’s unfortunate Chis went down. It’s tough to see that. It really is with him being your leader and captain of the team, but it’s still the next-man-up mentality, so I have to step up and try to lead this team and get some wins.”