ORONO, Maine — Saturday’s lopsided victory over Bryant University sent the University of Maine football team into this week with a big boost of confidence.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears (1-1) not only dominated the Bulldogs in every facet of the game, they also were able to use some less-experienced players who provided reason for optimism.
“I think one of the things about playing a lot of guys is finding out about a lot more guys and adding depth to your football team,” Cosgrove said.
Perhaps the most significant development was the emergence of Rickey Stevens.
The junior tailback demonstrated that he is going to have an impact on the UMaine offense by running for 168 yards on 17 carries. The performance included a 46-yard run.
“He got those opportunities on Saturday and was very, very productive for us,” Cosgrove said of the 5-foot-8, 200-pound powerhouse.
The Bears came into 2012 knowing they had a capable starter in sophomore David Hood, who had backed up Pushaun Brown last season. Much less clear, after a preseason injury to Terrel Walker, was whether UMaine would have somebody to complement Hood.
Stevens seems to have answered that question. While Hood is a smaller, more explosive running back, Stevens provides some punch.
“He’s not a real big kid, but he’s very physical,” Cosgrove said.
As a schoolboy at Gates Chili High School in Rochester, N.Y., Stevens amassed 3,934 yards and 35 touchdowns during his career. He transferred to UMaine in 2011 from Notre Dame College, an NAIA program in South Euclid, Ohio.
He saw spot time in a couple of games last fall, but has continued to develop.
“There are guys in the program that emerge because of hard work, and that’s Rickey Stevens,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a walk-on. He’s earned scholarship money this year.”
Stevens was already in the mix at tailback after having a strong spring, but was elevated after junior Walker suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament during training camp. The resulting surgery will keep him sidelined until next season.
That opened the door for Stevens.
“He’s continued to grow as a football player,” Cosgrove said. “He reminds me of Pushaun Brown. He’ll protect the quarterback, he’ll catch the ball. His assignments are spot-on and we trust him.”
Cosgrove said a team must have at least two, if not three, reliable tailbacks in the fold to maintain fresh legs and better health.
Hood carried the load early for the Bears on Saturday, rushing for 96 of his 102 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He did not carry the ball again after fumbling in the third quarter.
“The O-line took care of me [Saturday],” Hood said. “They always take care of me. They made it look real good.”
Along with Stevens’ breakout game, there was another player who may diversify the Bears’ attack.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Jones also saw action at Bryant. He carried five times for 39 yards, including a 30-yard scoring scamper on his first collegiate carry.
“He can run. He’s a quick, little kid,” Cosgrove said. “We’re trying to figure him out in terms of where he can play for us, because he’s very slight. He’s 165 pounds at best.”
Cosgrove’s concern is making sure Jones, who came into the program as a wide receiver, isn’t subjected to an excessive physical pounding.
Kicking game inconsistent
It hasn’t cost UMaine yet, but the kicking game has experienced a few misses in the first two weeks.
Senior place-kicker Brian Harvey converted his first six extra points Saturday, but failed to make a 23-yard field goal and a PAT kick in the fourth quarter.
“Up until that point, everything was going great,” Cosgrove said.
Harvey went 1-for-2 on field goals at Boston College, pushing a 43-yarder right of the uprights.
“It’s a concern. We missed one at BC and those are things that are always challenging,” Cosgrove said.
“We feel like Brian’s a very good kicker, but he has had some misses that get your attention, because you want the best out there and that’s our obligation to our football team, to get the best guy out there that we can count on.”