Football is often the athletic event around which homecoming celebrations revolve.
Teams at the University of Maine, Husson University and Bowdoin College hope to cash in on the emotion and crowds from the festivities during this weekend’s key games around the state.
No. 1 Richmond Spiders (6-0) at Maine Black Bears (3-3), noon, Alfond Stadium, Orono:
The Black Bears get their most difficult test of the season against the top-ranked defending Football Championship Subdivision national champions.
UMaine demonstrated some fortitude and fight in last week’s win at Hofstra, but coach Jack Cosgrove’s team knows it will have its hands full with a battle-tested Richmond squad that has won 14 consecutive games, including nine straight on the road.
Experience and confidence are two keys for the Spiders.
“They’re a deep, talented and experienced football team,” Cosgrove said. “They’re going to start 17 seniors; we’re going to start one.”
UMaine encounters a Richmond defense that ranks ninth in FCS scoring defensive (15.2 points per game). Linebackers Collin McConaghy (7.2 tackles per game) and Patrick Weldon (6.8) head a unit that has allowed 17 points or less in four of the Spiders’ five games.
“They almost line up and tell you they’re better than you personnel-wise,” Cosgrove said. “They’ll run you down, they’ll tackle you.”
The Bears continue to search for better balance on offense. UMaine has shown the ability to throw behind quarterback Warren Smith (80-for-125, 964 yards, 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) and elusive wide receiver Landis Williams (32 receptions, 377 yds., 5 TDs).
The Bears’ goal is to get more production — and fewer fumbles — out of the ground game, which is led by sophomore tailbacks Derek Session (93 carries, 425 yds., 3 TDs) and Roosevelt Boone (22 att., 161 yds.).
“Our biggest problem is not defenses stopping us, it’s us stopping ourselves — penalties and turnovers,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve had 15 turnovers to this point in six games.”
Richmond features one of the league’s most poised quarterbacks in senior Eric Ward, who ranks ninth nationally in passing efficiency (153.88) while completing 90 of 136 passes for 1,114 yards and 9 TDs with only two interceptions.
“He makes all the throws. He’s very much adept at creating for himself if the run is there and making a play,” Cosgrove said.
The Spiders are averaging 130 ypg via the run behind Justin Forte (81.6 ypg) and have a quartet of slippery wideouts including Trey Gray (21-256-2) and Kevin Grayson (19-245-2).
The Bears will try to hold Richmond in check with a defense headed by sophomore linebackers Donte Dennis (67 tackles) and Brandon McLaughlin (40 tackles) and
safety Jerron McMillian (36 tackles, 3 interceptions).
BEAR TRACKS: UMaine welcomes back two players on defense as starting cornerback Dom Cusano and backup linebacker Levi Ervin of Lisbon Falls have recovered from concussions. Ervin missed two games and Cusano one. Senior LB Mark Masterson continues to be sidelined by an ankle injury that has kept him out the last four games.
Norwich Cadets (3-3) at Husson Eagles (2-3), 1 p.m., Winkin Complex, Bangor:
Coach Niles Nelson’s Eagles will be challenged by a Norwich defense that is stingy against the run (86.1 ypg). Husson also must move forward with its No. 3 quarterback after Jack Hersom suffered a concussion in last week’s game.
The Eagles have lost two in a row, both on the road. Tailback Julius Williams (70 ypg) has been rejoined by Justin Lindie of Winslow, who returned last week after an extended injury.
The Cadets have won three straight in Eastern Collegiate Football Conference play and occupy first place. Norwich features the league’s No. 2 rushing offense, rolling up 268 ypg behind a balanced attack led by Kris Sabourin (66.8 ypg) and Andrew Fulford (58.7 ypg).
Husson’s defensive standouts include senior linebacker Deenon Blindow, who leads the ECFC with 9.6 tackles per game, and senior linebacker Bobby Gilbert of Beaver Cove (9.2 tpg).
The Cadets have the league’s top sack man in Reza Afsarmanesh, who is averaging one per contest.
Maine Maritime Mariners (4-1) at Massachusetts Maritime Cadets (2-4), noon, Commander Ellis Field, Buzzards Bay, Mass.:
This game is the renewal of one of the most heated Division III rivalries in the region. The Mariners and Cadets clash for the Admiral’s Cup and bragging rights among the New England maritime institutions.
Maine Maritime has bounced back from its loss to Bridgewater State with two straight New England Football Conference victories. The Mariners continue to rack up big yardage (378 ypg) with their multipronged triple-option offense that features fullback Jim Bower (147.8 ypg) and halfback Nick Bourassa (70 ypg).
Mass. Maritime has lost two straight and also has a formidable run game. Douglas Dyke (64.3 ypg) is the top rusher. The Mariners counter with a defense paced by Travis Fergola (9.8 tpg) and Mike Riley (7.6 tpg, 4 interceptions).
Today’s other games: Amherst (3-0) at Colby (1-2), 1 p.m.; Bates (0-3) at Wesleyan (1-2), 1 p.m.; Hamilton (1-2) at Bowdoin (1-2), noon.