The University of Maine football team builds around the premise that if each man does his job, good things will happen.
The Black Bears maintained that belief Saturday night to help eke out a crowd-pleasing 16-13 Colonial Athletic Association football overtime victory over rival New Hampshire at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
“All we did was stick together, man,” said senior cornerback Dominic Cusano as fireworks burst in the cool air over an adjacent field. “This was the first game that we felt like the whole time we stuck together, we never turned our backs on each other.”
Despite a season-worst 13 penalties for 120 yards, four turnovers and defeat staring them in the face, the Black Bears persevered, fought hard and came out on top.
“(Saturday) it was kind of shaky at times, but we overcame adversity and we came through with the win,” said junior quarterback Warren Smith. “Emotionally, it’s huge.”
It wasn’t exactly the kind of execution and self-discipline UMaine had worked hard to achieve during the previous week of practice. Even so, the continued physical and psychological challenges may have worked to bring out a little something extra in the players when they needed it most.
“We believe in each other, we trust in each other and we knew the coaches were behind us, so we just knew that it didn’t matter what situation we were put in, we were going to capitalize on it,” Cusano said.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Bears (2-3, 1-1 CAA) must now gear up for a tough road contest at undefeated Delaware (5-0, 2-0 CAA), which was ranked No. 5 in the latest Football Championship Subdivision national poll.
Although the 18th-year coach admitted UMaine has a lot of work to do to clean up the continued penalty problems and continue to improve in all phases of the game.
Initially, there was a sense of relief at finally pulling out a close game. The Bears had previously suffered two, three-point defeats on Morse Field in 2010.
“We’ll take it,” said junior quarterback Warren Smith. “We were 1-3 and the three opponents that we lost to, we feel like we outplayed. We could have won, but we didn’t.”
Still, there is a renewed sense of confidence among the players after tasting victory again.
“I feel like this could be a turning point in our season, which I think it will,” said Smith, who stressed a mentality of continued hard work and focus on the short term.
UMaine appeared headed for what could have been a season-long free-fall as UNH lined up for a potential game-winning field goal Saturday night with only 2.8 seconds remaining. Rather than concede defeat, the Bears found a way to extend the game.
Brent Rice, a backup defensive tackle on a deep UMaine line unit, broke through alongside teammates Doug Alston and Ryan Nani and blocked Mike MacArthur’s 33-yard attempt. In the overtime period, Maine safety Jerron McMillian then intercepted an R.J. Tolman pass on UNH’s first possession and Harvey went on to kick the winning field goal.
“Everybody knew we were going to block it and that was going to get us into OT,” Cusano said. “We just stuck together.”
Harvey keeps the faith
Perhaps no UMaine player’s resolve was tested Saturday night more than that of Brian Harvey.
The junior place-kicker may well have been one missed field goal away from becoming the backup. Instead, he came through.
Harvey booted the game-winning 37-yarder, from the right hashmark that has been a tough location for him during practice. He said he was inspired by the positive vibes he received even after missing a long field goal and an extra-point kick earlier in the contest.
“When you’ve got teammates like I do on this team, emotionally it’s very easy to bounce back from plays like that,” said Harvey, who sat out the 2009 season with a torn muscle in his hip/buttocks.
“(Special teams) Coach (Kevin) Cahill and a couple of the other coaches told me that they had all the confidence in the world in me still,” he explained. “After so much that this team’s been through and I’ve been through with this team, I felt the confidence of my teammates and I know that they knew I was going to make my next kick. Their confidence really inspired me.”