KINGSTON, R.I. — Two years ago, monsoon-like conditions at Meade Stadium at the University of Rhode Island swallowed up the University of Maine’s postseason chances in a swirl of wind, rain and mud.
Saturday afternoon, the weather was wet and windy, but the Black Bears used the soggy field as the latest stepping stone on their journey toward a potential NCAA playoff spot.
UMaine erased a seven-point deficit by scoring 16 unanswered points in a span of three minutes, 42 seconds in the second quarter on its way to a 37-7 Colonial Athletic Association football victory over URI.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s 21st-ranked Black Bears (8-3, 5-2 CAA) churned out their sixth straight win, setting up Saturday’s noon showdown with New Hampshire (8-2, 5-2 CAA) at Alfond Stadium in Orono for the CAA North Division title.
“It’s a one-game season now,” said UMaine junior quarterback Mike Brusko. “Win, hopefully make the playoffs and lose, who knows, probably not. We’re just thankful to be in this situation.”
The Wildcats likely have clinched an NCAA at-large berth, regardless of the outcome, while UMaine must win to remain in the hunt.
The Bears prevailed behind their suffocating defense and another workmanlike rushing performance by the offense.
Led by senior end Jovan Belcher’s eight tackles, including three for a loss, the Bears limited the Rams (2-9, 0-7 CAA) to 162 yards and only 34 via the run. URI mounted an 80-yard scoring drive in the second quarter — and little else.
Redshirt freshman Jared Turcotte of Lewiston set a physical tone for UMaine’s efficient rushing attack, which racked up 274 yards. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound fullback carried 20 times for 121 yards and three touchdowns.
“[Turcotte] runs like a grown man,” Brusko said. “To have a back like him to punish guys every time they tackle him, that makes the defense not want to tackle them.”
With Derek Session out nursing a knee injury and Jhamal Fluellen dinged up in the first half, freshman tailback Pushaun Brown picked up the slack while running for 96 yards on 16 carries with one TD. A surging offensive line was led by seniors Ryan Canary and Chris Arnao.
Rhode Island came out fired up and slowed the Bears initially, taking advantage of an extra week of preparation made possible by their bye week. The Rams marched down the field on 10 plays to grab a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter on Jimmy Hughes’ 16-yard scoring run.
“They definitely presented some problems for us right off the bat,” Belcher said. “Our coaches corrected that on the sidelines and we just went to work.”
UMaine heeded the wakeup call and reeled off 16 straight points.
A 52-yard play-action pass from Brusko to wide receiver Landis Williams highlighted a five-play, 60-yard drive that culminated in Turcotte’s 3-yard run around left end with 6:14 left in the second quarter.
Two plays later, a high snap from center sailed over the head of Rams quarterback Derek Cassidy, who picked the ball and scrambled to his right but was hauled down in the end zone by UMaine end Jordan Stevens of Temple.
“It propelled us. It gave us the momentum,” Belcher said of the play.
The Bears got the ball back at their own 43 after the ensuing free kick and went back on the attack. Brusko hooked up with tight end Derek Buttles on a 20-yard third-down pass and later threw a 13-yard TD strike to Tyrell Jones in the back, right corner of the end zone.
Jordan Waxman’s PAT kick gave UMaine a 16-7 lead with 2:32 remaining in the half.
“I think Rhode Island came out and gave us everything they could early,” Cosgrove said. “I think our talent took over as the game went along.”
UMaine extended the lead late in the third quarter with a three-play, 50-yard mini-drive. Brusko threw a 24-yard pass to Jones over the middle on the second play, then Turcotte muscled through the URI defense on a 25-yard scoring run.
The Bears manufactured a 16½-minute advantage in time of possession.
“Winning the time of possession of a game is one of our goals every game,” Turcotte said. “Having long drives definitely helps in that area and it definitely wears teams down.”
Cassidy paced URI, completing 18 of 31 passes for 128 yards. He was not intercepted, but was sacked three times.