KINGSTON, R.I. — If momentum is something a football team can sustain across an offseason, the University of Maine has plenty of reason to be optimistic entering 2013.
The Black Bears rolled to their second straight blowout victory to finish off 2012 on a high note, a 55-6 thrashing of the University of Rhode Island on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Meade Stadium.
Marcus Wasilewski wrapped up his first year as Maine’s starting quarterback with another strong effort and the Black Bears’ ground game chewed up 364 rushing yards as Maine finished its surge to the .500 mark in the rugged Colonial Athletic Association. The Black Bears won two straight for the first time this season and three out of their last four to finish 5-6 overall and 4-4 in league play, the fourth time in the last five seasons Maine has achieved that goal.
“Our guys listened and practiced in a workmanlike fashion last week and this week,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “They were two very scary games for us in the coaching profession, but our execution was outstanding.”
Maine unleashed an offensive barrage on a helpless opponent for the second straight week, following up its 51-7 demolition of one-win Georgia State on Senior Day with an equally dominant performance against winless URI. The Black Bears cracked the 500-yard mark again, with Wasilewski finishing an efficient 15-for-22 for 201 yards and four touchdowns. He fired two scores apiece to tight end Justin Perillo and wide receiver Arthur Williams and running backs Nigel Jones (15 carries, 182 yards, two touchdowns) and Ricky Stevens (15 carries, 110 yards), the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week and Offensive Player of the Week, respectively, each broke the century mark.
“We really tried to focus on bringing everybody together in the last two or three weeks and I think it showed,” Wasilewski said. “There was a lot more production here in the last two weeks when we did that.”
The Black Bears’ victory doomed the Rams to their first winless campaign since 1949, something URI (0-11, 0-8 CAA) has avoided twice in the past at Maine’s expense. URI’s Homecoming victories against the Black Bears in 1979 and 1999 were the only successes in a pair of 1-10 seasons, but Maine wasn’t as charitable this time around and broke to a 34-6 lead by halftime to crush the Rams’ spirits.
“We asserted ourselves right away,” Cosgrove said.
Wasilewski’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Perillo capped Maine’s first drive to make it 7-0 and Jones busted through the left side for 18 yards to double the advantage late in the first quarter. Wasilewski fired two more touchdown passes in the second, a 13-yard connection with a wide-open Williams on play action and a 12-yard hookup with Perillo down the left hash.
“Those are nice signs of an efficient quarterback,” Cosgrove said. “We want to be a running football team that gets production that way but also play-passes and does some other things.”
Maine’s lone spot of trouble in the game was erased immediately by a big play on special teams, as the Black Bears needed just 15 seconds to counter URI’s only score of the afternoon. Bob Bentsen’s 2-yard quarterback keeper was cancelled out when Damarr Aultman raced 94 yards down the right sideline for the Black Bears’ first kickoff return touchdown since Desmond Randall broke one for 80 yards against St. Cloud State in 2009. Aultman’s return made it a 28-6 lead and started a string of 34 unanswered points to end the season.
“Our answer was as good as you could have made it,” Cosgrove said.
Maine now turns its attention to next season with a wealth of talent returning at the skill positions on offense and several key performers on defense remaining in the fold. Wasilewski will be a two-year starter as a senior, Aultman and Williams will provide a pair of big-play threats on the outside as junior receivers and Stevens and Jones both return in the backfield along with junior-to-be David Hood. Offensive lineman Jeff Gakos and Joseph Hook also return to a group that will be as talented as any in the CAA and one that will drive Maine in its pursuit of its third playoff berth since 2008.
“We obviously have a lot of work to do, but we’re anxious to get at it in the offseason,” Wasilewski said. “We’ll be able to look at ourselves on film, fix our mistakes and come back ready to roll.”