ORONO, Maine — Things are different from a psychological perspective this week for the University of Maine football team.
Previously, the Black Bears still held out the hope they might run the table and rally to qualify for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Coming off Saturday’s 28-21 Homecoming loss to border rival New Hampshire at Alfond Stadium, UMaine no longer has the playoff dream to chase.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s squad, which slipped to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in Colonial Athletic Association play, must rely on other sources of motivation.
“It gets more difficult, certainly, when the prize isn’t out there any more,” Cosgrove said, “but we haven’t been talking about the prize for a long time. That’s all preseason stuff. Then, you get to business week to week anyway.”
That game-by-game, practice-by-practice philosophy is one UMaine coaches have preached tirelessly — and players have adopted resolutely — for several years.
Yet it doesn’t prevent all involved from contemplating the long-term goals that would result from weekly success during the season.
Cosgrove said the Black Bears will continue to work hard and play aggressively for reasons that don’t factor a postseason berth into the equation.
“It really comes back to those three things: Love of the game, the love of your teammates and the love of the program,” Cosgrove said, “and that’s what you keep working on down the stretch.
“That’s been promoted here since the start of the season; playoffs are not,” he added.
The Black Bears have been challenged trying to put together all phases of their game after posting a 9-4 record and reaching the NCAA’s FCS national quarterfinals last season.
UMaine has not been able to reconfigure a defense that lost a handful of proven performers, while the offense likewise has lacked consistency with first-year starters at quarterback and tailback.
UMaine has not prevailed in close games, dropping a 24-19 decision to then-No. 17 Towson on Oct. 13 before losing by seven points Saturday to 12th-ranked New Hampshire.
The Bears’ first four CAA opponents are 12-6 combined in league play and all are ranked in the top 23 in the country. Nemesis Albany, which joins the league next season, is 6-1.
The margin of error is slim at this level. Again on Saturday, the Bears didn’t make enough plays to come out on top.
UMaine had two turnovers, both on interceptions, that gave New Hampshire the ball at the 1 and 17-yard lines, respectively. The Wildcats scored after each one.
“The two turnovers really hurt us, field position-wise, and shortened the field on our defense,” Cosgrove said.
“The one thing they did [Saturday] that’s something we haven’t done is, when they got the turnovers, they went and scored off them,” Cosgrove added.
UMaine junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski went 23-for-44 passing good for 254 yards and three touchdowns with the two interceptions. He was pressured consistently by the UNH pass rush, although he was sacked only once.
Wasilewski took responsibility for both interceptions, even though the first one appeared to go off the hands of wideout Art Williams.
“That’s one of those rules you learn when you’re throwing the outside hitch,” Wasilewski explained. “You put it outside. I put it inside a little bit.”
The second one was a game-changer as Wildcats linebacker Alan Buzbee dropped back into coverage and stepped in front of a throw over the middle of the field. It set up the go-ahead score with 19 seconds left in the first half.
“Rickey [Stevens] was my outlet there coming out of the backfield,” Wasilewski said. “It was just kind of a miscommunication between me and him, where he was going to be on the field.”
UMaine slowed the UNH ground game, limiting the CAA’s leading rusher, Nico Steriti (96 yards per game), to 17 yards. But the Wildcats passed for 283 yards.
UMaine is preparing for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. CAA game against William & Mary (2-5, 1-3 CAA) at Williamsburg, Va.
Cosgrove expects the Bears to be able to refocus on their unshakeable goals of playing for the game, each other and the program.
“You do have to spend time teaching those type of thoughts, those concepts,” he said. “The easiest handoff is to the seniors, but it’s a handoff that goes to the whole football team.”
BEAR TRACKS: UMaine did not have a couple of its more dynamic offensive players for Saturday’s game because of injuries. Sophomore tailback David Hood was unavailable for the second time in the last four games, while redshirt freshman kick returner Isaiah Jones was out. Senior place-kicker Brian Harvey missed his second straight contest and senior fullback Sam Shipley also was unavailable.