It’s neither a high-scoring offense nor a shutdown defense that has paved the way for the early success of the University of Maine football team this season.
As was the case with Black Bear playoff teams in 2001, 2002 and 2008, UMaine is winning because of a well-rounded effort in all three phases of the game.
The offense, defense and special teams are working well in concert, enabling coach Jack Cosgrove’s team to surge into first place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings.
UMaine (5-1, 3-0 CAA) has moved up to ninth in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Football Championship Subdivision national poll and is tied with Towson University (5-1, 3-0 CAA) atop the CAA coming off Saturday’s 27-21 homecoming victory over Rhode Island at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
The Bears are the highest-ranked team among nine CAA programs dotting the TSN poll. It marks the first time the league has ever had that many teams in the top 25.
UMaine’s next opponent, Richmond, checks in at No. 18.
UMaine remains No. 16 in the FCS coaches poll, and checks in seventh among FCS teams and 80th overall in the Sagarin Ratings.
Facing a solid conference opponent and, for half the game, a gusty south wind, UMaine manufactured another win.
The contest provided evidence that momentum and energy are critical components.
The Bears began the game with a 4-yard punt into the wind that put Rhode Island in immediate scoring position. The defense responded by holding the Rams and special teams changed the tone of early play when sophomore Mike Cole blocked a field-goal attempt.
Seizing the moment, the Warren Smith-led offense marched down the field and scored.
“I think they’re as good a team as I’ve seen in the conference this year in teams of balance: Offense, defense and special teams and, obviously, they’re playing like that,” Rhode Island coach Joe Trainer said after Saturday’s game.
UMaine turned a similar trick on other occasions in the contest.
The defense came up with the first of three turnovers in the first quarter when linebacker Vinson Givans forced a fumble and Kendall James recovered. It took one play for the Bears to cash in with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Maurice McDonald.
“Early in the game I thought our deense really stood up big,” Cosgrove said.
“We did have a couple big plays in the pass game that really helped us,” he added.
The defense also put points directly on the scoreboard in the third quarter when Givans ran an interception into the end zone from two yards out to provide what proved to be the decisive touchdown.
The Bears also exhibited some precision with their punt team Saturday, although it didn’t start well.
Jordan Waxman’s first punt was the 4-yarder and a subsequent kick into the wind, also in the first quarter, went only 18 yards.
“We probably have a case where a punter who was recognized as the conference (special teams) player of the week probably doesn’t feel like one after (Sunday’s) team meeting,” Cosgrove said of Waxman, who averaged 34.9 yards per kick. “We were real disappointed at the front end of it, because it wasn’t the wind (that caused the short punts).”
In both instances, UMaine was able to prevent URI from scoring.
The senior eventually dropped five punts inside the Rams’ 20-yard line, giving URI and average starting point of its own 9 on those possessions.
“When we had a chance to go with the wind, he was very productive for us,” Cosgrove offered.
The only area in which the Bears performed poorly was penalties.
UMaine was flagged 10 times for 102 yards, including seven holding calls.
“Some of our guys were mentally lazy, sloppy, with their techniques and, as a result, that’s how you get penalties,” Cosgrove said. “The focus wasn’t where it should be and that really hurt us.”
TREISTER PAT GAINS ATTENTION
The play by the Bears’ senior quarterback from Cape Elizabeth has been nominated for the GEICO Play of the Year, Intersport announced Sunday.
Each week for nine weeks, four plays are nominated for Play of the Year on the GEICO Best of College Football Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/BestofCollegeFootball. A panel of college football experts will evaluate the nine weekly winners and select one.
Treister gave UMaine the win when he dived headfirst into the end zone and was sent hurtling into a spin when hit by two defenders.
The play is up against a one-handed catch by South Dakota’s Will Powell, a trick-play TD by Miami’s Phillip Dorsett and, the voting leader thus far, a somersault over a defender for a touchdown by Tim Flanders of Sam Houston State.
This week’s voting ends Oct. 23 at 9:59 a.m.