ORONO, Maine — Missing three field goals ordinarily would be too much to overcome for the University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears’ defense played so well Saturday, the place-kicking woes didn’t affect the outcome.
Junior linebacker Mark Masterson returned a first-quarter interception 79 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for a four-interception effort that sparked UMaine to a 20-0 Colonial Athletic Association shutout of Northeastern at Alfond Stadium.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears (5-3, 3-2 CAA) earned their third consecutive win while treating a homecoming crowd of 5,968 fans to a well-rounded performance.
“Last week, the offense carried us a little bit, played great,” Masterson said. “This week, we focused on staying disciplined and staying on our assignments. It was nice to get a shutout.”
UMaine never let the Huskies (2-6, 1-3 CAA) get into an offensive rhythm. Northeastern, which has lost three straight, managed only 69 rushing yards.
Safety Lamir Whetstone had an interception to halt an NU threat at the 1-yard line in the second quarter, while Lionel Nixon Jr. and Jonathan Calderon added one each.
Northeastern senior quarterback Anthony Orio completed only seven of 20 throws for 93 yards and was intercepted three times. He had previously thrown only three picks in 2008.
Orio, who was lifted after throwing an interception on the Huskies’ first play of the second half, had an injured thumb on his left (non-throwing) hand, according to NU coach Rocky Hager.
“This week we had a big emphasis on [turnovers] because they’re momentum changers,” Whetstone said. “We definitely felt like we had an opportunity, that [Orio] kind of stares down a couple receivers and will just throw it in there in tight situations, so we were playing not scared to take chances and take risks to go after the ball.”
Senior backup John Sperrazza (10-for-19, 91 yards, 1 INT) was a bit better, but UMaine limited Northeastern to 253 total yards behind linebackers Sean Wasson (nine tackles) and Andrew Downey (seven).
The Bears controlled the ball and the clock with a balanced run game and timely passes. They forged a nearly 17-minute advantage in possession time, led by the running of quarterback Mike Brusko (13 carries, 93 yards) and fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston (18 carries, 68 yards).
The Bears, who churned out 246 rushing yards, welcomed back senior tailback Jhamal Fluellen (9 carries, 46 yards). He had missed the previous three games with a shoulder/neck injury.
Brusko (10-for-13, 136 yards) completed touchdown passes of 14 and 39 yards to wide receiver Landis Williams in the second and third quarters, respectively.
“Giving the defense so much to look at and to worry about, it helps keep guys fresh, too,” Brusko said. “We did a great job running the ball again today and hopefully we can continue to do that and spread the carries around like we did.”
Northeastern was without five injured defensive starters, including safety Nate Thellen and end Jason Vega.
Masterson’s interception jumpstarted the Bears, who previously drove 62 yards, only to have freshman Brian Harvey push a 34-yard field goal attempt wide right.
“[Masterson’s] a great third-down player for us,” Cosgrove said. “That was the game-changing play.”
Northeastern’s ensuing possession ended on Whetstone’s interception at the 1-yard line and the visitors penetrated the UMaine 40-yard line only once after that.
UMaine extended its lead to 14-0 in the second quarter with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Brusko eluded a rusher and hit Williams over the middle for a score.