PHILADELPHIA -- Making his first collegiate start at quarterback was going to be challenging enough.
The task got even tougher for redshirt freshman Dustin Thomas before he ever took his first snap for Villanova.
Before the third annual Mayor's Cup on Thursday night between Villanova and Temple at Lincoln Financial Field, Thomas learned he would be without his top target - wide receiver and fellow former Cape-Atlantic League standout Norman White.
White, a senior co-captain from St. Joseph High School, will miss the entire season with a lisfranc injury of his left foot. White will redshirt this season and return for a fifth season in 2012.
White had 69 receptions for 886 yards and 11 touchdowns last season for the Wildcats and was a first team all-Colonial Athletic Association pick.
"We are very disappointed for Norman," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "He is a premier player in our league who looked poised for another big season. The silver lining is that we will be able to get Norman healthy and have him back for next year."
Minus White, the youthful Wildcats struggled against Temple and lost 42-7 before a rowdy crowd of 32,638.
Not exactly the type of season opener Thomas had expected.
"Not that it looked like it, but it was a good experience to be out there," Thomas said. "I'm definitely looking forward to playing more games and helping this team earn more victories."
In the first half, Thomas threw an interception in the end zone and lost a fumble against a tenacious Owls defense.
Thomas wound up throwing three interceptions and losing one fumble. He was 11-for-25 for 109 yards while rushing 17 times for 59 yards.
But Thomas, a four-year starter from St. Augustine Prep and the Press Player of the Year in 2009, also converted some nice throws under pressure. He even caught a pass from Dorian Wells on a fake punt. And he earned his first touchdown on a 4-yard run with 7 minutes, 57 seconds remaining.
For St. Augustine, Thomas had set a new South Jersey record with 69 career touchdown passes. He also tossed for a CAL-record 5,916 yards.
After missing last season with mononucleosis – Thomas was 1-for-2 for six yards against Lehigh in the second game though the statistics were wiped out with the redshirt- this was simply another learning experience.
"It's not high school anymore," Thomas said matter-of-factly. "Throws you think you can make are not going to be there. I'll go back and watch the film and learn from my mistakes."
There will be surely other lessons for Villanova, which lost 12 starters from last year's team that finished 9-5 and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the second straight season.
Of the 12 starters lost, 10 were all-conference players anchored by quarterback Chris Whitney.
"We are a rebuilding team," Talley said.
Thomas understood the responsibility of taking over as a freshman. After that first game finally ended, he wasn't thrilled. Yet he was anxious to move forward.
"I never like to lose," Thomas said. "Losing is the worst feeling anybody could feel. Losing 42-7 or 100-7, it's still a loss. … This will test our heart and mental toughness."
Temple jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime, quickly extended it to 28-0 in the third quarter and cruised to the victory in coach Steve Addazio's first game. Running back Bernard Pierce led the way with 147 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Talley, meanwhile, opened his 27th season on the sidelines as the all-time winningest coach in school history with a 188-108-1 mark.
After one game with Thomas, Talley saw so many positive things to take into the Sept. 10 game at Towson.
"He got knocked around a little bit," Talley said of his freshman. "He made some mistakes. I think he can be a good quarterback. He can be a success and we, as a team, will learn from the tape."
Notes: Villanova junior wide receiver Kenny Miles, a Buena Regional graduate, caught two passes for 8 yards. … Wildcats nose guard Antoine Lewis (Mainland Regional) had five tackles. Lewis started all 14 games last season and compiled 48 tackles, two sacks and one fumble forced.