March 21, 2018
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UMaine football faces 4th straight top-25 foe

By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

It’s put up or shut up time for the University of Maine football team, which welcomes defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion Villanova to Orono for its homecoming contest.

It headlines a full Saturday schedule of football games involving Maine college programs.

No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (3-2) at Maine Black Bears (2-4), noon, Alfond Stadium, Orono: Coach Jack Cosgrove has challenged his team to finally eliminate the penalties and mistakes that have plagued the Bears thus far. That won’t be easy taking on the team that won it all in 2009.

“That’s the theme, we’ve got to put an end to the talk,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve got to no longer make those types of mistakes, because they’re impacting games against great football teams.”

UMaine turned the ball over three times (2 fumbles, 1 interception) in last week’s 26-7 loss to No. 2 Delaware. Cosgrove reiterated that the Colonial Athletic Association, which features seven teams in the FCS top 25, has a slim margin for error because of the caliber of ball being played.

The Bears’ defense will again be challenged by a Wildcats squad that ranks first in the CAA, scoring 29.6 points per game. Balance is the key, as Villanova has rushed for 186 yards per game and thrown for 178 yards per outing.

UMaine must try to contain three top threats in tailback Aaron Ball (67 ypg), quarterback Chris Whitney (64-for-97 passing, 767 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) and versatile wide receiver and “wildcat” runner Matt Szczur, who is a threat to run with the ball, catch it or throw it.

“He’s a multitalented kid, an MLB (Major League Baseball) draft pick,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a fast kid, but a shifty, smart kid, a complete football player.”

Szczur is among seven Villanova starters who would not have played last Saturday because of injury had coach Andy Talley’s Wildcats not had a bye week.

The Bears’ defense is led by hard-hitting linebackers Donte Dennis (51 tackles) and Vinson Givans (45), along with safety Trevor Coston (40). A UMaine offense that has been well-contained by most opponents this season will try to put some points on the scoreboard with its balanced attack.

Tailback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston spearheads the run component (83 ypg, 3 TDs), while the top targets for quarterback Warren Smith (110-for-164, 1,040 yds., 5 TDs, 5 INTs) have been wideout Derek Session (29 receptions, 345 yds.), tight end Derek Buttles (18-180, 1 TD) and wideout Ty Jones (17-185).

Villanova has a well-rounded defense that looks to safety Fred Maldonado (37 tackles) and linebackers Marquis Kirkland (32) and Terence Thomas (32) to set a physical tone.

“They give you a little bit of a different look, a 3-5-3, that’s not standard around these parts,” Cosgrove said. “The have outstanding linebackers and an aggressive group of players in a scheme that gives you problems with a lot of run blitzes and zone blitzes and things that are challenging with blocking schemes and stuff.”

Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (4-1) at Framingham State Rams (5-1), 1 p.m., Framingham, Mass.: This contest may well end up deciding the Bogan Division champion in the New England Football Conference.

MMA is only 3-1 in division play, while Framingham is 4-0, but a victory would give the Mariners the head-to-head tiebreaker and first place, at least for the time being.

The MMA triple-option offensive juggernaut is No. 1 in the land, averaging 507 rushing yards per game. That effort is spearheaded by senior fullback Jim Bower of South Paris (156 ypg), quarterback Matt Rende of Augusta (117 ypg) and halfbacks Nick Bourassa of Jay (95 ypg) and Todd Murphy (71 ypg).

Framingham prefers to do more of its damage through the air, averaging a league-best 265 ypg on the arm of QB Kurt Leone, who has thrown for 1,590 yards and 17 TDs with only four interceptions. James McCarthy has caught 34 passes for 573 yards with 11 TDs.

Husson Eagles (1-5) at Norwich Cadets (5-1), 1:30 p.m., Norwich, Vt.: The Eagles will try to win their second straight game when they travel to take on the second-place Cadets.

Coach Niles Nelson’s team broke into the win column last week with a 53-38 Eastern Collegiate Football Conference win over Anna Maria, but encounter a Norwich squad 36.3 points and 455 yards per game.

The Eagles look to build on last Saturday’s offensive effort, during which they rushed for 406 yards behind tailback Justin Lindie of Winslow (30 carries, 183 yds. vs. Anna Maria) and Byron Jackson (21-160).

Husson must contain a Norwich rushing attack that has accounted for 325 ypg behind option quarterback Kris Sabourin (107 ypg).

Today’s other games: Bowdoin (1-2) at Hamilton (0-3), noon; Colby (1-2) at Amherst (3-0), 1 p.m.; Wesleyan (2-1) at Bates (1-2), 1 p.m.

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