The University of Maine hopes to generate some momentum, Maine Maritime Academy battles for a postseason berth and Husson University closes out its 2009 season, highlighting Saturday’s football games involving Maine colleges.
Maine Black Bears (4-4) at James Madison Dukes (3-5), 3 p.m., Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Va.: UMaine will try to build off last Saturday’s home victory over Massachusetts with a difficult Colonial Athletic Association road test against JMU.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Bears (3-2 CAA) are beginning to believe in themselves as a young team gains experience and confidence.
“We have a tremendous challenge in front of us, a great opportunity,” Cosgrove said. “I like how we’ve practiced and the thing that I’m hoping is that we have a real hunger to continue winning.”
The challenge comes in the form of a Dukes team that is only 1-4 in league play. However, the perennial CAA contenders are coming off a victory at Delaware.
“It gets your attention that they’re not ranked. It’s a program that’s traditionally atop the South Division and has won a national championship and played a lot of great football,” Cosgrove said.
JMU’s losses have come against Maryland (overtime), Hofstra, No. 1 Richmond, No. 4 Villanova and No. 5 William & Mary.
UMaine encounters a formidable Dukes defense that ranks fourth in the CAA and 26th in the Football Championship Subdivision, allowing 293 yards per game. Heading the unit are defensive end Arthur Moats (66 tackles, 9.5 sacks) and linebacker Pat Williams (54 tackles).
JMU also is the stingiest team in the league against the pass (150 ypg).
“We haven’t seen a defensive front as aggressive or a player of Arthur Moats’ capabilities,” Cosgrove said. “They’ve got a whole crew of guys on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Bears continue to strive for consistency and balance on offense. They’ll need to establish a solid run game behind tailback Derek Session (109 carries, 459 yards, 3 touchdowns) and versatile quarterback Warren Smith.
Smith has completed 134 of 218 passes good for 1,517 yards and 11 TDs with 10 interceptions. His top targets include slippery wideout Landis Williams (44 catches, 484 yds., 5 TDs) and Ty Jones (28-308-5), along with Session (20-159).
The improving UMaine defense (375.5 yards, 22.9 points per contest) has shown a propensity to come up with big plays of late. The Bears forced six turnovers in the win over Massachusetts and are third in the CAA in turnover margin (plus-1.0).
Setting the tone for UMaine is sophomore linebacker Donte Dennis, the CAA Defensive Player of the Week who leads the team and ranks fifth in the conference with 10.1 tackles per game. He also has made four interceptions.
Linebacker Brandon McLaughlin (49 tackles) and safety Jerron McMillian (46 tackles, 4 INTs) are other mainstays on a unit that will try to contain the Dukes.
JMU has an emerging star in freshman QB Justin Thorpe, who has rushed for 450 yards and three TDs while passing for 748 yards and two scores. Tailback Griff Yancey, WR Rockeed McCarter (24-468-3) and dangerous kick returner Scotty McGee (30.3-yard average) are among the Dukes’ main weapons.
Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (7-1) at Fitchburg State Falcons (4-5), noon, Fitchburg, Mass.: The Mariners can clinch their second straight New England Football Conference Bogan Division crown with a victory in today’s regular-season finale.
With a win, MMA will earn a spot in next week’s NEFC championship game against Boyd Division titlist Curry.
“They’ve been practicing hard all year and working toward their goals,” said MMA coach Chris McKenney. “We need to go on the road this week and we have to beat Fitchburg State to win the division and get back to the championship game.”
MMA is coming off a record-setting performance in a 76-49 victory at Coast Guard during which MMA rolled up an NCAA Divisions II-III record with 730 rushing yards.
The Mariners again hope to demonstrate their powerful and balanced triple option attack, which features senior QB Tyler Angell, senior fullback Jim Bower and sophomore halfback Nate Bourassa.
MMA leads Division III and the entire nation in rushing, netting 443.6 yards per game. The Mariners are fourth in Division III total offense (493 ypg) and fifth in scoring offense (43.13 ppg).
Bower (162 ypg) is the No. 2 rusher in Division III.
Becker Hawks (0-9) at Husson Eagles (3-5), noon, Winkin Complex, Bangor: Husson hopes to end its inaugural Eastern Collegiate Football Conference season on a positive note against winless Becker. The Eagles have lost four of their last five, with three of those setbacks coming by three points or less.
Becker has dropped nine straight contests and has been outscored 446-107.
Several seniors will put on the Green and Gold for the final time for coach Niles Nelson’s team. That group includes offensive lineman Mike Austin of Turner, defensive back Ramael Barton, OL Jon Benson of Biddeford, DB Doug Blades, linebacker Keenon Blindow, fullback Jamie Bonnell of Oakland, OL Jason Cross of Hampden, wide receiver James Dobson of Berwick, tight end P.J. Dowe of Bangor, OL Ben Emmott of Woolwich, OL Ryan Esmail, LB Bobby Gilbert of Beaver Cove, LB Sodney Theodore and running back Julius Williams.
Husson’s seniors have a 22-15 record during the last four seasons.
Today’s other games, 12:30 p.m.: Tufts (2-4) at Colby (3-3), Bowdoin (2-4) at Bates (0-6).