ORONO, Maine — Chris Treister has been waiting the better part of three years to see his first significant action at the University of Maine.
When the redshirt sophomore from Cape Elizabeth finally got his chance Saturday, he didn’t let it go to waste.
Treister had perhaps the most impressive starting debut ever for a UMaine quarterback, passing for 465 yards and five touchdowns and running for a score to spark the Black Bears to a 41-17 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Rhode Island at Morse Field.
The coming out party for the former Portland High School quarterback was tempered significantly by a health issue involving UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Cosgrove, 54, experienced shortness of breath and chest pain on the sideline late in the fourth quarter and was taken by ambulance to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where a nursing supervisor said he was listed in “good” condition late Saturday night.
“The win was bittersweet because I was just worried about coach Cos, still am, obviously,” said Bears senior tri-captain Mike Brusko.
“It was a little bit scary,” Brusko said. “He seemed fine. I guess he was having a little shortness of breath or something. They’re taking care of him, just as a precautionary measure, to make sure everything’s OK.”
Cosgrove was released from the hospital Sunday and was back working with his football team, according to a press release from the university. He underwent a battery of tests at EMMC.
UMaine improved to 5-5, 4-3 in CAA play, heading into Saturday’s season finale at New Hampshire.
Treister got his first start after sophomore Warren Smith suffered a season-ending broken foot at James Madison a week earlier. He played with poise while picking apart the Rhode Island defense.
Treister completed 39 of 45 passes, establishing a school single-game record with an .867 completion percentage. One would never know it seeing his restrained mood after the game.
“Don’t let him fool you. He’s happy, he’s excited, as well he should be. He should be smiling a lot,” said Brusko, who was among nine seniors to play their last home game at Alfond Stadium.
Treister admitted it is difficult to wait in the wings.
“One of the hardest things at this level is everybody on the team is a great player,” Treister said. “It’s a pretty humbling experience coming in and not being able to contribute on the playing field.
“It’s tough watching other guys play, but it was pretty exciting to get out there today and play a little bit. It was awesome,” he added.
Treister established a devastating rapport with his receivers and relied heavily on senior wideout Landis Williams, who tied a UMaine single-game record with 17 receptions and set the school single-game mark with 220 receiving yards. He had touchdown catches of 10, 41 and 58 yards.
“He played incredible. He did an amazing job all week of preparing himself in practice,” Williams said.
“Treister just stepped in like he’s been here all season and had a good day,” he added.
Ty Jones made nine catches for 128 yards and one TD and Brusko grabbed nine passes for 57 yards and a score.
Treister also ran the ball 12 times for 33 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter. The only real blemish on his performance was an Ellis Foster interception that was returned 45 yards for a score in the third quarter.
“I was excited for him, because there’s a difference between practicing and playing in a football game and you never know what you’re going to get,” said UMaine offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kevin Bourgoin.
“I didn’t have any doubt that he would go out there and play like he did,” he said. “He actually exceeded the way I thought he was going to play.”
UMaine trailed 10-7 at halftime, but was jumpstarted when Steven Barker blocked a punt by URI’s Tim Edger with 9:30 left in the third quarter.
The Bears scored four plays later on a 6-yard pass from Treister to Brusko, putting UMaine ahead for good at 14-10.
The hosts scored on their next possession as Treister went 5-for-5 passing to set up his 23-yard TD run, which included shedding a hit at the line of scrimmage, with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
UMaine then answered the interception TD by scoring on its next three possessions to put the contest out of reach.
Treister completed 18 of 20 throws for 284 yards and four touchdowns in the second half.
“People were a little skeptical of him because he hadn’t played in three years, but it looks like he’s been playing every day,” said a jubilant Smith.
“I knew he could do it. I’m so happy for him. He deserves it. He might be player of the week in the nation,” he offered.
The Bears also turned in a suffocating defensive effort against a URI squad that put up 42 points against No. 7 New Hampshire the previous week.
Sophomore linebackers Donte Dennis (9 tackles) and Vinson Givans (7 tackles) paced the Bears’ defense, which also got five tackles (2.5 sacks) from senior end Jordan Stevens.
Rhode Island mustered only 184 total yards, 13 via the run. Quarterback Chris Paul-Etienne was 13 of 31 passing for 137 yards and a TD.
The Rams scored on their last possession of the first half to take a 10-7 lead.
Shawn Leonard raced 35 yards on a screen pass to put the visitors on top with 1:34 left.
Treister methodically moved the Bears into field-goal range, completing seven passes for 47 yards. However, backup place-kicker Josh Hesseltine, a freshman from Old Town, hit the left upright with his 32-yard attempt as time expired.
URI took a 3-0 lead on Louis Feinstein’s 38-yard field goal at the 8:37 of the first quarter.
UMaine answered with a 10-play, 70-yard drive. Treister went 6-for-6 passing good for 83 yards, including a 9-yard scoring toss to Williams with 2:28 remaining in the quarter.