ORONO, Maine — Having ridden a bit of an early roller coaster during the first three weeks of the season, the University of Maine football team looks to establish consistency as it heads into its conference schedule.
The Black Bears and Husson University of Bangor both open league play Saturday in the hope of putting the elements of their games together.
Villanova Wildcats (3-1) at Maine Black Bears (1-2), 3:30 p.m., Alfond Stadium, Orono: Last week’s loss to Albany was a prelude to a future league game, but Saturday represents the start of the Colonial Athletic Association schedule for the now-unranked Bears.
UMaine encounters a Villanova contingent that it beat in a snowstorm last season in Philadelphia.
“It is exciting to get into conference play and make that next step that hopefully will be one that is positive,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
The Black Bears are expected to face a difficult test against a Villanova offense that ranks 11th in the Football Championship Subdivision with 242 rushing yards per game. A versatile trio of backs features Kevin Monangai (80.5 ypg) and quarterback John Robertson (60.5 ypg), each of whom has four rushing touchdowns.
The elusive Robertson also has completed 44 of 81 passes for 597 yards and two TDs with no interceptions.
“I think he’s a dangerous player,” Cosgrove said. “He can run it and hurt you that way, but he’s also shown a remarkable ability to complete the ball. He moves the chains.”
Wideouts Norman White (16 receptions, 222 yards, 2 TDs) and Joe Price (8-165) are the top passing targets.
The Bears allowed 247 rushing yards to Albany, although 74 of those came on one play. The defensive front will be challenged as linebacker Donte Dennis (team-leading 29 tackles), safety Khari Al-Mateen (20) and LB Troy Russell (17) spark the list of playmakers.
UMaine ranks No. 24 in FCS total defense (317 ypg) and is fourth in pass efficiency defense and 14th in pass defense (145 ypg).
The Bears’ offense has demonstrated promise, but hasn’t clicked yet. Junior tailback Rickey Stevens (83.7 ypg) will shoulder most of the running load with sophomore David Hood sidelined by an injury.
Junior QB Marcus Wasilewski continues to gain confidence. He has completed 57 of 98 passes for 627 yards and three TDs with three interceptions.
Senior Maurice McDonald (22-180) and junior Derrick Johnson (15-218-2) have been productive wide receivers, while junior tight end Justin Perillo (6-60) was held without a catch against the Great Danes.
“Teams have done a better job of covering him, being aware of him,” Cosgrove said. “We need to execute better and we’re working on ways where Justin is involved in the offense.”
The Wildcats, who played their first four games in Philadelphia, have given up only 294 yards (16th in the FCS) and 18 points (25th) this season. Villanova is third in pass defense (122 ypg).
Safeties Joe Sarnese (2 INTs) and Ronnie Akins (1 INT) are the Wildcats’ tackling leaders with 24 each. Linebacker Dillon Lucas (21 tackles) has a knack for getting into the backfield.
Sarnese also has been dangerous on kickoff returns, netting 32.5 yards per attempt.
BEAR TRACKS … UMaine defensive tackle Matt Pellerin may see his first action of the season Saturday. The sophomore from Turner has been out with strained knee ligaments since training camp.
Husson Eagles (1-2) at Becker Hawks (1-2), 4 p.m., Alumni Field, Leicester, Mass.: The Eagles hope to be able to start generating some momentum after snapping a 16-game losing streak against Anna Maria.
However, that was two weeks ago. Husson has had an extra week to heal up and prepare for a Becker squad that is coming off a 53-41 loss to Hartwick. The Eagles fell to Hartwick 55-14 in their opener.
Husson continues to shore up things on both sides of the ball. The Eagles have surrendered 37.7 points and 496.3 yards per contest, with linebacker Stephan Dance (33 tackles) and end Ernest Wiggins (25) leading the charge.
On offense, Husson is still reconfiguring as a youthful line group gains experience. The Eagles have managed only 14.7 points and 217 total yards per game.
Kash Keezer of Veazie runs the offense but has completed only 42 percent of his throws with three TDs and seven interceptions. Tailback Ryan Dorso of Farmingdale is coming off a 202-yard, two-score performance against Anna Maria.
Becker has been a solid offensive team, putting up 25 points and 328 yards a game, but the Hawks also have surrendered 28 points and 444 yards per outing.
Worcester State Lancers (3-1) at Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (0-3), 1 p.m., Ritchie Field, Castine: The Mariners hope to start finding some offensive traction with the triple option as they go after their first win of the season.
MMA, 0-1 in New England Football Conference Bogan Division play, ranks uncharacteristically last in the league in scoring (11.7 ppg) despite churning out a conference-best 275 rushing yards.
Junior fullback Bill Wetherbee (103.7 ypg) has been the most productive back for MMA, which also looks to halfback Ryan O’Neal (58 ypg) and QB Brad Reed (50 ypg).
The Mariners are looking to halt a seven-game losing streak dating back to last season.
Worcester State (1-0 Bogan) has good offensive balance and has put up 31.2 points and 422 yards per outing.
Saturday’s other games, 1 p.m.: Amherst (1-0) at Bowdoin (0-1), Bates (0-1) at Tufts (0-1), Middlebury (1-0) at Colby (0-1).