Playing a grueling Colonial Athletic Association schedule has taken a physical toll on the University of Maine football team.
This week, after trying to get rested and healed during the past two weeks, coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears return to action with a CAA contest at 15th-ranked Massachusetts.
The game marks the fifth time in six games UMaine has faced a top-15 Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
Maine Black Bears (3-5) at No. 15 Massachusetts Minutemen (5-3), 3:30 p.m., McGuirk Stadium, Amherst, Mass.: UMaine looks to win for the second consecutive game while UMass continues its quest to remain in the hunt for an NCAA playoff spot.
However, the Bears are still dealing with injuries to key players such as tailback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, wideout Ty Jones and cornerback Dom Cusano, among others. Quarterback Warren Smith appears to be OK after reaggravating a hip injury at Rhode Island.
“We kind of limped back from Rhode Island, but we backed off for a few days,” Cosgrove said of the two weeks since. “I think we’ve got some guys back.”
The Bears encounter a UMass team that is coming off a 21-14 victory last weekend at James Madison. The win snapped a two-game losing streak.
UMaine’s defense must contend with a Minutemen unit that leads the CAA in total offense (406 yards per game), pass offense (234.8 ypg) and time of possession (33 minutes, 24 seconds).
“They’re very balanced, they’re big and physical up front,” Cosgrove said. “They can hurt you with the play-action pass.”
UMass boasts the league’s top passer in Kyle Havens (155-for-244, 1,878 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions), the No. 1 receiver in Anthony Nelson (49 catches, 635 yds., 2 TDs) and the No. 2 rusher in Jonathan Hernandez (85.4 ypg, 7 TDs).
“Their quarterback is playing a lot smarter,” Cosgrove said. “He’s really made a great jump in improvement from junior year to senior year.”
The Bears will again stress the need to stop the run first behind linebackers Donte Dennis (70 tackles) and Vinson Givans (57), while a secondary spearheaded by safeties Jerron McMillian (46) and Trevor Coston (53) will have to be cohesive and execute its assignments.
The UMaine offense must play mistake-free and take advantage of its scoring opportunities.
Junior tailback Pushaun Brown (37.8 ypg) is likely to get most of the carries while Smith (144-for-244, 1,464 yds., 7 TDs., 6 INTs.) must have enough time to find a corps of receivers led by Derek Session (38 rec., 476 yds., 1 TD), Des Randall (20-194-1) and Derek Buttles (22-204-1).
The UMass defense is led by All-America linebacker candidate Tyler Holmes (85 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks), linebacker Mike Mele (69) and safety Shane Viveiros (36).
“(Holmes) is a great playmaker for them, a guy who without a doubt is the heart and soul of their defense,” Cosgrove said.
UMass has dominated the all-time series 40-15-1, although UMaine has taken the last two meetings.
Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (7-1) at Coast Guard Academy Bears (2-6), noon, New London, Conn.: The Mariners can clinch their third consecutive New England Football Conference Bogan Division title with a victory over the Bears. That would put coach Chris McKenney’s MMA team back in the league championship game next week against the Boyd Division winner.
Last season, MMA set an NCAA Division II and III record with 730 rushing yards and piled up an NEFC record for points in a 76-49 victory at Castine.
The Mariners continue to dominate with their high-powered option offense that has amassed 481 yards and 43.6 points per contest. MMA has a versatile backfield that features fullback Jim Bower of South Paris (164.5 ypg, 18 TDs), quarterback Matt Rende of Augusta (129.5 ypg, 14 TDs) and halfbacks Nick Bourassa of Jay (82.4 ypg, 8 TDs) and Todd Murphy (64.5 ypg, 5 TDs).
MMA has been solid on defense behind the play of linebackers Joel Chadbourne (10.1 tpg) and Wade Mondoux (6.7 tpg).
Seniors Bower, Murphy, Mondoux, Dan Weamer, Mike Secord of Windham, Mike Durrell of Livermore, Josh Elwell of Owls Head, Franklin Sawyer of Lisbon, Mark Stambach of Lisbon Falls, Shawn Atkinson of North Turner, Andrew St. Michael of Old Orchard Beach and Brent Hutchins of Orrington have provided leadership and experience for this year’s squad.
Husson Eagles (1-8) at Becker Hawks (1-8), noon, Alumni Field, Leicester, Mass.: The Eagles will try to close out a disappointing season on a positive note with a victory over the Hawks.
It will be the final game in the career of seven Husson seniors: running back Justin Lindie of Winslow, linebacker Mike Toothaker of Farmington, wideout Rod Johnson, tight end Travis Barnies of Auburn, running back Andy Mondesir, defensive lineman Kyle Romick and defensive back Vaughn Johnson.
Lindie ranks fourth in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference with 90 rushing yards per game and nine total touchdowns.
The Eagles also feature one of the most prolific tacklers in the league as safety Kyle Vanidestine of Bangor has racked up 9.9 per contest.
Husson’s challenges have included the lack of a reliable passing attack and a defense which, despite forcing 14 fumbles in ECFC play, has allowed 45.6 points and 519 yards per game.
Today’s other games: Colby (3-3) at Tufts (1-5), noon; Bates (1-5) at Bowdoin (1-5), 12:30 p.m.