May 26, 2018
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Black Bears post Gael-force breeze

By Pete Warner

ORONO — Iona College does not offer football scholarships. Instead, coach Fred Mariani rewards his players with a few choice games each year against top-level Football Championship Subdivision teams.

The University of Maine made sure Saturday that the Gaels received the full FCS scholarship experience — and earned their $40,000 payday.

The Black Bears dominated from start to finish, grinding out 375 rushing yards behind freshman tailback Pushaun Brown and shutting down the Gaels’ offense while breezing to a 55-7 victory at cool, windy Alfond Stadium.

“We knew what we were in for playing these guys,” Mariani said. “Some people think it doesn’t make sense to do this, but my players love these kinds of games to play against some of the better [FCS] players in the country.”

UMaine (6-3), playing its third straight home game, won for the fourth consecutive week. Coach Jack Cosgrove’s squad should be riding high heading into Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association showdown at Massachusetts.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said UMaine quarterback Mike Brusko, who has directed the offense during the program’s longest winning streak since 2002.

“We control our own destiny at this point. We decide what happens in the future,” he added. “When you play the game and you have that opportunity, you can’t ask for anything else.”

The Bears performed efficiently and remained focus on the task of winning, regardless of the Gaels’ apparent inferiority — on paper and videotape.

“We talked all week about making sure we respected this team,” Brusko said. “I thought we did a great job of not worrying about who the opponent was and playing our game.”

UMaine’s offense was nearly unstoppable. The Bears scored on seven of their first nine possessions and punted only once all afternoon.

The line quintet of center Ryan Canary, guards Matt Barber and Steve Shea of Corinna and tackles Tyler Eastman of Old Town and Chris Arnao took care of things up front.

They opened the door for a breakout effort by Brown, who carried 16 times for 136 yards and a touchdown.

“I’m more comfortable with the offense and everything,” Brown said. “The O-line was blocking great and I had options to run wherever I wanted pretty much on every play.”

Brown got the nod as the backup tailback in the absence of freshman Derek Session, who sat out with a thigh bruise.

The Bears demonstrated plenty of balance as freshman fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston netted 79 yards on eight tries, with a touchdown, while freshman Roosevelt Boone (56 yards, 2 TDs) and senior Jhamal Fluellen (46 yards) all were productive.

Brusko completed 11 of 14 passes, good for 141 yards and two scores. Sophomore wide receiver Tyrell Jones had five receptions for 59 yards.

“They practiced hard, they prepared well, they respected Iona,” Cosgrove said. “They did great honor to the game here today by playing as a team. I think it’s a very, very good sign.”

UMaine amassed 516 total yards and limited Iona to 130 while manufacturing a 17½-minute advantage in time of possession. Only once did the Gaels get inside the Bears’ 46-yard line. Iona managed only eight yards rushing and committed four turnovers.

Cornerback Lionel Nixon Jr. headed the defense with nine tackles, while end Jovan Belcher registered two sacksamong his six tackles. Norman Smith and Derrick Harris each had an interception.

Iona quarterback Warren Smith completed 19 of 31 passes for 122 yards, including a 25-yard TD toss to Nick Groth in the second quarter. He was intercepted twice.

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