ORONO, Maine — Jack Cosgrove walked into the Maine Marketplace in the Memorial Union on Sunday morning worried.
He knew his University of Maine football team would qualify for the playoffs, but coming off Saturday’s 30-27 loss at New Hampshire, he had no idea when or where it would be.
Within a few minutes, Cosgrove was all smiles and excitedly celebrating the announcement UMaine’s season will continue Dec. 3 in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with a second-round game at Boone, N.C., against No. 9 Appalachian State (8-3) of the Southern Conference.
“I made multiple phone calls. I was hearing all sorts of different things,” said Cosgrove, who admitted seeking some divine intervention.
“I asked the Almighty a bunch (Saturday) night if he might be able to cut us a break here,” Cosgrove said, “and I’m really excited that we got the bye and a chance to have this football team resurrect its soul.”
The 13th-ranked Black Bears (8-3) who are banged up physically and were still feeling the emotional sting of Saturday’s loss, were reinvigorated by the news.
“We’re really excited, I just can’t wait,” said senior quarterback Warren Smith. “It’s a good feeling.”
The ESPNU announcers on the selection show referred to UMaine as “limping into the playoff,” after losing two of its last three and questioned whether “the University of Maine has the athletes to keep them (ASU defenders) off.”
“You know they’re giving us no love on TV,” Smith pointed out. “This is exactly what we want.”
UMaine players, coaches, staff and a few friends gathered to watch the show on three large projection screens. The supporters included UMaine President Paul Ferguson.
Cosgrove had trouble containing himself after it was revealed the Bears had earned a first-round bye. He banged his fist lightly on top of a trash container, paced around with a huge grin on his face, then kissed his wife Marilyn.
The TV graphic also caused a buzz in the room as the players realized they had avoided a first-round game.
“That was a hard one to take (Saturday), but we know it’s a whole new season now,” said senior defensive tackle Kevin Phanor. “Everybody’s record is 0-0. We start anew.”
UMaine is among five Colonial Athletic Association programs in the NCAA playoff field, which last season was expanded from 16 teams to 20 with the addition of four preliminary-round contests.
Eighth-ranked Towson (9-2) will host a second-round game against No. 6 Lehigh (10-1), while No. 11 New Hampshire (8-3) plays a second-round game at No. 7 Montana State (9-2).
In first-round contests, No. 10 Old Dominion (9-2), coached by former UMaine quarterback and assistant coach Bobby Wilder, entertains No. 19 Norfolk State (9-2) and No. 17 James Madison (7-4) plays at Eastern Kentucky (7-4).
UMaine had submitted a bid to host early-round games at Alfond Stadium, but was passed over by the NCAA selection committee.
Among other Northeast schools, Northeast Conference champion Albany (8-3) — one of UMaine’s opponents this season — plays at Stony Brook (8-3), the Big South Conference winner, in a first-round game.
The Bears’ most recent postseason appearance came in 2008, when they traveled to Northern Iowa and lost a first-round contest indoors at the UNI Dome.
Previously, UMaine had advanced to the NCAA national quarterfinals in 2001 and 2002. The Bears knocked off Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., in a 2002 first-round game.
“We’ve won there before, which a lot of people don’t do,” Cosgrove offered.
With UMaine’s injury woes mounting, receiving a first-round bye will bring a much-needed opportunity for rest and recovery.
“Unfortunately, we’re one of the teams that got caught with the injury bug,” said senior safety Trevor Coston. “We lost some players and we get to rest up, hopefully get some players back and see what happens from there.”
Smith said the Bears also have the opportunity to improve and prepare with the added motivation of being in the postseason.
“This is exciting to be in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve had a great season so far, but we’ve still got a long way to go, hopefully.”