There is a unique excitement that comes with being in the hunt for the postseason.
That feeling is palpable among the members of the University of Maine football team, which finds itself one of the many teams still in contention for the NCAA playoffs.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears are 6-3 after beating Iona on Saturday for their fourth straight win. They also are knocking on the door of The Sports Network’s Top 25, as only 14 voting points separate UMaine from No. 25 Liberty.
Cosgrove has been around long enough not to talk too much about the playoffs when his team is three difficult games away from getting there.
“They have competed hard over the course of the season and improved as a football team,” Cosgrove said after Saturday’s victory.
“It’s exciting to be at this point and to go into November with opportunities in front of us that are exciting,” he added.
While understated about UMaine’s playoff hopes, he is much more outspoken about the development of the team this season. He is seeing some of the same characteristics that enabled the Bears to share back-to-back conference championships in 2001 and 2002.
“I talk about their consistent improvement and the maturation that’s taking place as well,” Cosgrove said. “There’s a real high level of leadership coming from within the team, the management of their younger teammates. There’s a great level of discipline and as a result I feel this team continues to grow and understands in a comprehensive nature what it feels like to win.”
With all that said, UMaine begins a difficult stretch of three games to end the Colonial Athletic Association season. And one loss likely would eliminate the Bears from the playoff picture.
The playoff quest begins in earnest Saturday at Amherst, Mass., where UMaine will take on 13th-ranked Massachusetts (6-3). The Bears hope to channel their excitement about what the future holds into their preparation for this week’s game.
And they are motivated by the possibility of eventually reaching the playoffs.
“When you play the game and you have that opportunity, you can’t ask for anything else,” said junior quarterback Mike Brusko. “There’s a lot of teams right now that are playing for simply pride, they don’t have anything to look forward to. I know with this group of guys, we’ll do everything to take advantage of (the opportunity).”
UMaine women see good signs
UMaine women’s basketball coach Cindy Blodgett saw some good signs from her team during Sunday’s 78-66 exhibition victory over the University of New Brunswick.
The Black Bears exhibited defensive tenacity and were active playing mostly their 1-2-2 matchup zone. They were able to contest shooters and get hands in passing lanes to disrupt passes.
Blodgett said UMaine had 27 deflections, pointing to their defensive intensity and positioning.
“You don’t always get the steal, but even getting the deflection can lead to a steal, or pull the opponent out of their offense,” Blodgett said. “Hopefully we can continue to build on this.”
Juniors Brittany Boser and Amanda Tewksbury were pleased with the Bears’ defensive intensity, for the most part.
“We brought a lot of energy in the beginning, and through-out the game, especially on defense,” said Boser, who exploited UMaine’s inside advantage while pouring in 27 points. “It felt good to have energy out there and to play together.”
Blodgett went pretty much with a seven-player rotation with starters Boser, Tewskbury, Colleen Kilmurray, Kristin Baker of Bingham and Katia Bratishko. Tanna Ross of Newburgh came off the bench along with freshman post player Samantha Baranowski.
Freshmen Jasmine Rush and Samantha Wheeler played sparingly, while classmate Brittany Williams was nursing an undisclosed injury and did not play.
“I think we made a lot of improvements,” Tewksbury said. “I felt like we gave a lot of effort and got a lot of defensive stops and we were patient, for the most part offensively.”
The Bears shot nearly 44 percent from the field, went 19-for-24 from the foul line and out-rebounded UNB 39-34. UMaine did struggle from long range, going 3-for-18 on 3-point attempts.
The Bears played well enough to build a 28-point lead and then withstand the Varsity Reds’ second-half rally while utilizing a handful of their least-experienced players.
“This was our first real game,” Blodgett said. “We played against a team that’s played eight to 10 games already, so I think they did a nice job of being unselfish with the 20 assists, that’s certainly impressive, and we got to the free-throw line, which is another area of focus. That, to me, translates into aggressiveness.”
UMaine plays its final exhibition game Friday against Division III Husson University of Bangor. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Alfond Arena in Orono.
The Bears open the regular season Nov. 16 at -ranked Duke.
Brown makes big splash
UMaine freshman tailback Pushaun Brown demonstrated his capabilities against Iona, using his speed, agility and toughness to run for 136 yards and a touchdown.
Brown went into the game as the backup for senior Jhamal Fluellen after redshirt freshman Derek Session sat out with a thigh bruise suffered against Northeastern a week earlier.
“He did a great job,” said redshirt freshman fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston. “When he made his reads, he was exploding through the hole. I think he did a great job with accelerating through holes and lowing his shoulder and breaking tackles.”
Treister makes college debut
Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth made his collegiate debut in Saturday’s win over Iona.
The redshirt freshman quarterback, who starred at Portland High School, played four series and directed the Bears to a fourth-quarter touchdown. Treister rushed three times for 22 yards and was 0-for-1 passing.
Treister was elevated to the No. 2 spot after starter Adam Farkes went down with a left shoulder injury Oct. 11 at Delaware.
“We wanted to get Chris Treister in the game,” Cosgrove said. “Obviously, he’s worked hard. Sometimes that gets left unsaid, how hard guys in the backup roles are working during the course of the week.”