NORFOLK, Va. — Now we know why the University of Maine calls the play “Bingo.”
Norfolk State’s Spartans found out, too, just in time to see the back of Zedric Joseph’s jersey as the senior tailback dashed 85 yards for the decisive touchdown in the Black Bears’ 23-6 victory Saturday night in the football season opener for both schools at Dick Price
As expected, defense led the way for the Black Bears, who had their way with two first-time NSU quarterbacks and bottled up the Spartans attack most of the night. But with a sputtering Maine offense squandering several scoring opportunities, the Black Bears’ lead was just 13-6 midway through the third quarter when the offense lined up at its own 15-yard line for a second-down call.
That’s when Joseph faked receiving a handoff and circled out of the backfield. The Spartans sold out on the run action, and when Joseph collected Marcus Wasilewski’s pass, there wasn’t an NSU defender within 10 yards of him. It stayed that way as Joseph streaked into the end zone for his first career touchdown.
“It was a great play call,” Joseph said. “We call it ‘Bingo,’ and I just creepd out. They were crashing down on the run, they bit on it and I sneaked out. Wide open.”
Rickey Stevens added a 2-yard scoring run and Sean Decloux connected on field goals of 26, 33 and 41 yards for the Black Bears. It wound up being more than enough for a Maine defense that sacked NSU quarterbacks five times, got an interception from linebacker Christophe Mulumba and limited NSU passers to just 13 completions in 38 attempts.
“We didn’t really know what to expect with Norfolk State, but the kids ran around and we created some real havoc defensively,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said.
And then there was Joseph, a junior college transfer who stepped into a starring role out of the backfield after contributions primarily on special teams last season. Joseph led the Black Bears with 90 receiving yards and also collected 46 more on 12 rushing attempts. He also a key special teams play by dropping NSU punter Dalton Fraser for a 16-yard loss early in the first quarter to give the Black Bears possession at the Norfolk State 14-yard line.
“Z had a small role on our team last year, but he had a really good spring practice,” Cosgrove said. “That’s when I’d say he started to catch our attention. Then he a great preseason camp. He was really steady and consistent. “Now we have Rickey and Nigel (Jones) coming back, our top two from last year, but we went into this game saying we’re going to play all three of them. Z was the one who stepped up with the big plays today.”
Still, it was an otherwise uneven debut performance from a Maine offense that was unable to capitalize on a series on prime scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half. Maine’s offensive struggles began quickly.
After Joseph’s special-teams play that set the Black Bears up deep in NSU territory, Stevens lost a fumble on Maine’s first offensive play of the season.
That drive was one of four Maine started inside the NSU 39 during the opening 30 minutes. The Black Bears managed just six points after those sequences and were up by just a touchdown (13-6) at intermission.
“I’m disappointed in the offense … and I had higher expectations of our quarterback,” Cosgrove said. “He played well at times, but at times he missed some throws we think he should make. We’ve got a lot of work to do to improve.”
Wasilewski finished with 15 completions in 28 attempts for 209 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“I can’t take anything away from Norfolk State. They played good coverage and sometimes it was tough to find windows,” Wasilewski said.
Still, Wasilewski was right on the money with a 33-yard second-quarter strike to Derrick Johnson that set up the Black Bears’ first touchdown. Wasilewski laid the ball up perfectly for Johnson, who snagged it over an NSU defender along the right sideline. Five plays later, Stevens bulled in for the game’s first touchdown.
“He was well-covered, but I have a lot of trust in Derrick,” Wasilewski said. “I trust him to go get the ball for me like that, so it was a good play to see.”
Johnson finished with a team-high eight receptions for 82 yards. Wasilewski actually led the Black Bears in rushing with 54 yards, and Stevens added 46 along with his touchdown. Defensively, Cabrinni Goncalves notched career highs in tackles (13, including three for losses) and sacks (2) in his first collegiate start.
Norfolk State got its only score on a 34-yard TD pass from quarterback Malike Stokes to Joseph Hawkins with 5:57 left in the second quarter that got the Spartans to within 13-6. But NSU would never seriously threaten again, a credit to the Maine defense but also due to the work of Black Bears punter Jeffrey Ondish.
Ondish averaged 45 yards on his five attempts and saw all five downed inside the NSU 20.
“I thought we played really well on special teams,” Cosgrove said.
Next up for the Black Bears is second-year Football Bowl Subdivision member Massachusetts on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots) in Foxborough, Mass.