ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine and St. Cloud State University both suffered significant defensive losses after last season.
Tonight, both defenses expect to gain some much needed experience when the Black Bears and the Huskies clash at 7 p.m. in their mutual football season opener.
St. Cloud State Huskies (0-1) at Maine Black Bears (0-0), 7 p.m., Morse Field, Alfond, Stadium, Orono: The Bears’ rebuilt defense will get its first opportunity to prove itself against the Division II Huskies from Minnesota.
UMaine returns only four full-time starters from 2008, and expects to be challenged by a balanced St. Cloud State team. However, the Bears are looking forward to getting on the field.
“It’s real nice,” said senior linebacker Mark Masterson. “I think we’ve all been anticipating this, especially because we’re so young on defense. We’re going to see what we can do out in a real scenario.”
The Bears’ defense is led by Masterson (68 tackles in ’08), fellow senior linebacker Brandon McLaughlin (51), end Jordan Stevens of Temple (53, 4 sacks) and sophomore Raibonne Charles of Windham (34 tackles), along with sophomore strong safety Jerron McMillian (26).
UMaine faces a St. Cloud State offense that showed good balance while netting 296 yards in its opening-game loss to Augustana. The Huskies are led by running backs Jake Machacek (16 carries, 63 yards) and Brandon Geiss (17-62), quarterback Mitch Watkins (19-for-37 passing, 165 yds., 1 touchdown, 1 interception) and receiver Tyler Allery (5 catches, 53 yds., TD).
“On offense they have a lot of personnel groupings and they do a lot of things with motion and movement that we’ve got to get lined up on,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “They can give an inexperienced defense some issues if you’re not communicating.”
Likewise, the St. Cloud defense will have to contend with a veteran Black Bears offense that features several weapons. Senior quarterback Mike Brusko directs a potent unit that features a multipronged ground assault led by sophomore fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston (625 yds., 7 TDs in 2008), sophomore tailback Derek Session (417 yds.) and himself (328 yds.).
Turcotte has been nursing a groin injury in recent weeks and has seen limited full practice action.
“Maine’s a running team so we’ll have to do a great job of tackling,” said St. Cloud State coach Scott Underwood. “The size and speed on a [Division] I-AA squad is typically going to be a little bit better. To outplay them, we’re going to have to do a lot of the little things right.”
The Bears, who averaged 187.5 yards per game on the ground last season, also hope to achieve more balance throwing to the likes of junior wide receivers Tyrell Jones (23 receptions, 356 yds., 4 TDs) and Des Randall, a redshirt last fall.
Senior wideout Landis Williams is sidelined by a broken right hand.
Brusko passed for 936 yards and eight scores on 64 percent accuracy a year ago.
St. Cloud State’s young defense was susceptible to long scoring plays in its opener. The Huskies were touched up for TD passes of 12, 61, 36, 28 and 21 yards.
“We gave us too many big, easy plays on the pass and we need to work a little harder on our special teams,” Underwood said. “We’ve got to play bend-but-not-break defense.”
Leaders for St. Cloud include senior safety Brian Kampa (7 tackles), senior linebacker Paul Denne (7) and junior safety Tyler Niedfeldt (6).