ORONO, Maine — If nothing else, the University of Maine football team ended the 2012 season on a positive note.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears won three of their last four games, including the last two, to finish with a respectable 5-6 record that included a 4-4 mark in Colonial Athletic Association games.
However, UMaine feasted on weak competition as its five wins came against squads with a combined record of 12-43.
Even so, the Bears might have finished above the .500 mark had they not committed a couple of key mistakes in a 24-19 loss at Towson and had they made a few more plays against New Hampshire.
Ultimately, this was a team that was unable to adequately fill some key voids after reaching the Football Championship Subdivision national quarterfinals a year ago.
The primary areas of deficiency this season included inexperience at defensive tackle and safety, which meant UMaine often had difficulty stopping the run (167 yards per game).
The Black Bears also were susceptible to giving up big plays as they surrendered 11 scoring plays of more than 20 yards, including seven via the pass.
UMaine still finished the regular season ranked 12th among 121 FCS teams in pass efficiency defense (107.72), which led the CAA. The unit also was No. 16 in points allowed (19.6 per game) and 23rd in pass defense (180 ypg).
Senior linebacker Donte Dennis returned after missing 2011 with an elbow injury to lead the team with 86 tackles in 10 games. Senior LB Troy Russell (64 tackles) and senior cornerback Darlos James (44) were other mainstays along with junior LB Troy Eastman (62) and junior CB Kendall James (45).
The two safeties improved steadily, with sophomore Khari Al-Mateen finishing as the No. 2 tackler on the team with 67. Junior Jamal Clay came on strong as the season progressed and finished with 33 tackles and three interceptions.
After junior end Michael Cole (20 tackles) was lost for the season at Delaware with a torn quadriceps tendon, redshirt freshman Mike Kozlakowski (47 tackles, 5 sacks) began to emerge along with classmate Trevor Bates of Westbrook (36 tackles). Junior Erwin Roach (28 tackles) and senior Doug Alston also were key contributors.
Graduate student David Toriola (27 tackles) helped stabilize the line, and sophomore Matthew Wilson (41 tackles) started coming into his own along with sophomore Matt Pellerin of Turner.
UMaine will look to the likes of Axel Ofori, who will be a junior, and sophomore Sherrod Baltimore to expand their roles at cornerback. Juniors Arron Achey and Randy Samuels appear to be next in line to step in at linebacker.
On offense, the Black Bears found a promising leader in junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. He completed 206 of 338 passes for 2,364 yards and 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, but UMaine had to live with some growing pains as he played his first collegiate season.
Their inability to run the football consistently may have slowed his growth, despite an offensive line that included three proven seniors in Chris Howley, Garret Williamson and Josh Spearin of Limington.
Another factor was an injury that limited sophomore tailback David Hood (57 carries, 293 yds., 2 TDs) to four games and forced junior transfer Rickey Stevens and freshman Nigel Jones into prominent roles.
Stevens met the challenge, running for 819 yards and two scores, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Jones (358 yds., 3 TDs) also showed promise.
Wasilewski continued to demonstrate his skills while utilizing a deep receiver corps that was led by senior Maurice McDonald (56 receptions, 459 yds., 3 TDs), junior wideout Derrick Johnson (31-346-2) and junior tight end Justin Perillo (30-271-5).
Sophomores Damarr Aultman (29-438-6) and Art Williams (25-402-4) also were big-play threats.
The Bears clearly improved as the season went along, but they ranked eighth in CAA scoring (26.5 ppg), seventh in total offense (382 ypg).
UMaine’s biggest challenges on offense will be shoring up the line. Senior guard Jeff Gakos and senior tackle Joe Hook return, but sophomore center Bruce Johnson, senior tackle Tyler Patterson, sophomore guards Dan Carriker and Chase Hoyt, and sophomore tackle Ben Wezel will be vying for playing time at the three vacant spots.
Junior Doug Nash of Turner, a converted lineman, will provide depth at tight end, but the Bears likely will attempt to establish someone at fullback after injuries derailed that attempt this year.
UMaine’s kicking game seemed to provide hope for the future. Sophomore punter Jeff Ondish averaged 41 yards per kick and improved his hang time.
Freshman Sean Decloux stepped in when senior place-kicker Brian Harvey was lost with an injury and performed admirably. He made seven of 10 field goals, including a 41-yarder, and converted 24 of 25 PAT kicks.
With added leg strength, Decloux could become UMaine’s best place-kicker in a long time.
Assuming the Bears can return to full health during the offseason, 2012 could hold promise. Wasilewski is a confident signal-caller and has several good weapons at his disposal.
If Hood and senior Terrel Walker return in good health, the tailback position will have plenty of options.
However, UMaine’s bottom line may well come down — again — to its ability to put together cohesive offensive and defensive lines to pave the way to success.