FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — On the football field, being an “underdog” is in the eye of the beholder.
The University of Maine out of the Football Championship Subdivision was, surprisingly, a three-point favorite against Massachusetts, a Football Bowl Subdivision program, on Saturday afternoon.
The Black Bears, apparently oblivious to the betting odds, came out and made a statement of their own.
The UMaine defense limited UMass to 265 total yards while Marcus Wasilewski capably directed a well-balanced offense as the Black Bears churned out a convincing 24-14 victory at Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.
Senior safety Jamal Clay, who made seven tackles, tried to convey the team’s mindset going into the game.
“It was a great experience, but we didn’t come down here for the experience, we came down to win, and that’s what we did,” said Clay, who repeated a quote that had once been shown to his high school team.
“There’s never an upset if the so-called underdog knew they could win all along,” he recalled.
It was only the second UMaine win over an FBS team in program history. The other came in 2004 at Mississippi State.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team (2-0) overcame some first-half turnovers and penalties to prevail with a strong second-half effort in front of 15,624 fans, including a sizeable contingent of vocal UMaine supporters.
UMaine beat UMass — a program with nearly the FBS maximum of 85 scholarships — with a roster that includes 63 equivalencies, the FCS limit. And it cost UMass $160,000, it’s enticement for the Bears to play the game.
“[It’s exciting] being in an environment like this and having an opportunity to compete against a former [conference] rival, a team that we played so much in our history,” Cosgrove said, “and then having a chance not only to win the game, but feeling like you really asserted yourself and took the game, won the game in a resounding way.”
UMaine outgained UMass (0-2), a member of the Mid-American Conference, 514 yards to 265.
The Bears afforded the Minutemen only 14 first downs, limited them to 64 rushing yards and held UMass to five possessions consisting of three plays and a punt.
Linebackers Cabrinni Goncalves and Christophe Mulumba made seven and six tackles, respectively for UMaine, while cornerback Axel Ofori had five and safety Khari Al-Mateen registered a fumble recovery and an interception.
“We came down here, we got the job done and we’ve got to move on to next week. The coolest part was we call got to win together,” Al-Mateen said.
Wasilewski excelled, shaking off a first-quarter interception in the end zone. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 267 yards and carried the ball 10 times for 76 yards, including a touchdown.
Zedric Joseph and Rickey Stevens each rushed for 65 yards to help the Bears net 247 yards on the ground. UMaine also emerged with a 13 1/2-minute advantage in time of possession.
“This is a win to cherish for the program, obviously, playing against this level of a team,” said Wasilewski, who tried to keep things in perspective.
“I don’t think we look at it as a historical win,” he added.
UMaine led 10-7 at halftime, despite two red-zone turnovers and a touchdown-negating penalty for pass interference. The Bears were much more efficient in the second half.
The visitors began to seize the momentum with a third-quarter drive that consumed 12 plays and 68 yards over five-plus minutes. The big play with a 31-yard toss from Wasilewski to tight end Justin Perillo to the 6-yard line.
Two plays later, Zedric Joseph punched it in from a yard out to make it 17-7 with 4:29 left in the quarter.
After another UMass three-and-out, its fifth in a series of six possessions, the Bears went back to work. This time, Wasilewski ran up the middle on a QB draw, bounced off a defender and raced 39 yards for a score.
Sean Decloux’s PAT made it 24-7 with 1:18 left in the third.
“Everybody rips us for running Marcus and look what he does,” Cosgrove offered.
“He’s a Pennsylvania kid, he’s tough as heck. As long as he’s got the ball in his hands, we feel pretty good about it.”
UMass finally showed some life early in the fourth as backup quarterback A.J. Doyle completed three passes, including an 8-yard toss to Tajae Sharp that cut the deficit to 10 points with 11:10 to play.
However, UMaine sealed the win with a 14-play, 73-yard march that consumed the final 7:25.
“We physically ran the football at them every rep and they couldn’t stop us,” Cosgrove said. “That’s just heart-and-soul stuff.”
UMaine failed to cash in on two glowing scoring chances in the first 30 minutes. The Bears turned the ball over three times, twice inside the UMass 15-yard line.
Wasilewski was intercepted in the end zone on an ill-advised throw on the Bears’ first possession, while Al-Mateen coughed up the ball after a long interception return to the UMass 14-yard line.
UMaine also had an apparent touchdown pass from Wasilewski to Derrick Johnson negated by an offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone.
The Minutemen stormed down the field and scored on the first possession of the game, sparked by Trey Dudley-Giles’ 41-yard kickoff return and a 47-yard pass from starter Mike Wegzyn to Stacey Bedell on the first play from scrimmage.
Three plays later, Wegzyn found wideout Bernard Davis going across the back of the end zone for a score. Blake Lucas’ PAT made it 7-0 with only 1:23 expired.
UMaine turned around and bolted down the field, keyed by a 48-yard pass to the right side of the field to a wide-open Perillo, who was caught at the 5-yard line by safety Joey Colton.
On the next play, Wasilewski tried to make a throw while taking a hit and the ball floated into the hands of UMass linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox in the end zone.
The Bears finally got on the board almost nine minutes later, aided by a muffed punt return at the UMass 40. UMaine appeared to score on the pass to Johnson, but wound up settling for Decloux’s 26-yard field goal.
UMaine grabbed the lead after Jeff Ondish’s punt was fair caught at the UMass 5-yard line and the defense held. The Minutemen’s 20-yard punt put the Bears at the 35-yard line.
On the next play, Stevens found a seam up the middle, bounced off a would-be tackler and scooted 35 yards for the go-ahead TD at the 10-minute mark.
UMaine plays its home opener Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Bryant University.