ORONO, Maine — Saturday represents an important juncture in the season for the University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears, banged up after a competitive effort against 16th-ranked Northwestern of the Football Bowl Subdivision, open their Colonial Athletic Association season against No. 20 Richmond.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team, which has played two FBS opponents, hopes to make a statement as it plays its fourth road game in the first five weeks, this one against the 2012 CAA co-champs.
“That’s a substantial undertaking for us. Hopefully, it’s one that made us a better football team in preparing for our CAA opener,” Cosgrove said of the FBS challenges.
Maine Black Bears (3-1) vs. Richmond Spiders (2-2), 3:30 p.m., Robins Stadium, Richmond, Va.
This game has the makings of a defensive struggle, one that pits two of the most-penalized teams in the CAA.
UMaine’s defense has surrendered 330.5 yards per game, including only 175.8 through the air. Linebackers Cabrinni Goncalves (37 tackles, 3 sacks), Chris Mulumba (31 tackles) and Troy Eastman (19) head the charge.
This week, the Black Bears encounter a passing attack that has accounted for a league-best 287.8 ypg on the strength of the arm of quarterback Michael Strauss, who is 100 for 158 for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception.
“Strauss came in and led them to four straight wins down the stretch,” Cosgrove said of the 2012 season, during which the Spiders were not selected for postseason play.
The Bears have allowed only 175.8 ypg passing, second in the conference, and opponents have completed only 43 percent of their throws.
UMaine cornerbacks Axel Ofori (15 tackles) and Kendall James (13), along with safeties Jamal Clay (23) and Khari Al-Mateen (11) expect to be challenged by a Richmond receiver corps that features wide receivers Ben Edwards (21 catches, 227 yards, 1 TD) and Stephan Barnette (25-417-2).
“They have two excellent receivers,” Cosgrove said, “but as much as everybody talked about Edwards, we really like the other guy, Barnette.”
Jacobi Green (82.8 ypg) is Richmond’s leading rusher.
Senior defensive end Mike Cole, who has missed the last two games with a chest injury, made the trip and is expected to see some action.
On offense, UMaine looks for balance. The keys will be to capitalize on scoring chances and avoid turning the ball over against the Spiders, whose 10 forced turnovers, including seven interceptions, lead the CAA.
Senior QB Marcus Wasilewski (83-for-128 passing, 976 yds, 7 TDs, 4 INTs), the league leader in total offense (297.2 ypg), should be back after suffering an injury to his left (nonthrowing) shoulder at Northwestern.
Wideouts Derrick Johnson (29-279-1), Damarr Aultman (15-166-1) and tight end Justin Perillo (14-201-2) have been among the receiving standouts for the Bears.
Sophomore Nigel Jones (41 carries, 183 yds., 1 TD) is the top active rusher on a UMaine team that has lost four tailbacks, including three seniors, to injury. Two, Zedric Joseph and Terrel Walker, are out for the season.
Linebackers Eric Wright (35 tackles), Walt Sparks (30) and Aaron Roane (25) are UR’s defensive catalysts.
Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (0-2) at Western New England Bears (0-2), 1 p.m., Springfield, Mass.
MMA will try to tighten up its defense after allowing an average of 53.5 points in its first two games. This is the New England Football Conference opener for both teams.
The Mariners feature the top rushing offense in Division III as coach Chris McKenney’s squad has rolled up 469.5 yards per contest with with its option attack. Senior fullback Bill Wetherbee of Veazie has churned out 179.5 yards per game and 6.8 yards per carry, while QB Michael Fahey has netted 126 and 7.4, respectively.
MMA has given up 642 total yards per game, including 340 on the ground. The defense is headed by Chase Hutchinson (16 tackles) and Michael Burgess (14 tackles, 2 blocked kicks).
Colby Mules (1-0) at Middlebury Panthers (1-0), 1 p.m., Middlebury, Vt.
Colby hits the road hoping to make it two in a row.
The Mules look to build on a stifling defensive performance against Williams (a 31-8 victory) during which they limited the Ephs to 181 total yards, including on 21 through the run.
Justin Ciero went 13-for-31 passing with 151 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. Luke Duncklee of Augusta made eight grabs for 72 yards and scored twice.
Saturday’s other games
Bowdoin (0-1) at Amherst (1-0), 1 p.m.; Tufts (0-1) at Bates (0-1), 1:30 p.m.