ORONO, Maine — Halfway through the 2013 season, the University of Maine appears to be developing into a legitimate Football Championship Subdivision playoff contender.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s then-No. 23 Black Bears improved to 5-1 (2-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association) with a 62-28 thrashing of No. 24 Delaware at Alfond Stadium.
UMaine cranked out 602 yards of offense, allowed only 339 and posted a defensive touchdown and a special-teams score to go into its bye week riding a wave of momentum.
“The defense did a heck of a job and then special-teams-wise, too, getting touchdowns everywhere, made the offense’s job pretty easy the first quarter,” said senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. “It was nice to see us all coming together as a team today.”
The Bears scored 28 points in the first quarter to seize the momentum en route to the third-highest single-game point total in program history. It was their second straight win against an opponent ranked among the Football Championship Subdivision’s top 25.
“We came out of the gates and had a phenomenal start to the football game,” Cosgrove said, “and really set a nice tone, the way you’d want to see your football team come out and play in a very important game.”
UMaine owns three road victories already and is 2-0 on Morse Field after going 1-4 at home last year.
After blowing out Delaware, UMaine vaulted from No. 23 to No. 14 in Monday’s latest poll released by The Sports Network and was moved up to 17th in the FCS coaches’ poll. Nine other FCS teams have at least five victories.
Delaware head coach Dave Brock, who has seen UMaine teams over the years as an assistant at Hofstra and Boston College, said UMaine is legit.
“There’s underappreciated talent. I think they play extremely, extremely hard. I think they’re very well-coached,” Brock said.
The Black Bears have a bye this week and Cosgrove is a bit apprehensive about having a break in the schedule at this juncture.
“Unfortunately, we have the bye. You just want to keep playing when you’re playing like this,” he said.
UMaine hopes to use the bye week as an opportunity to continue improving — and healing.
The coaching staff will hold regular practices Tuesday through Friday, then give the players Saturday off going into the Columbus Day weekend.
“We’ve kind of crafted out a schedule that will let us get some work done during the week, some recruiting stuff for the coaches,” Cosgrove said.
“We’ll back off a little in terms of the volume. I think that’s something that everybody does during the course of a bye week,” he added.
Getting some injured players back and restoring the good health for some others is a priority for the Bears.
“Like everybody else, we’re challenged with some depth issues,” Cosgrove said. “We’ll have a chance to get some guys that haven’t gotten that many reps in practice more reps to see if we can elevate their status.”
Cosgrove said senior tailback Rickey Stevens is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a rib injury suffered Sept. 21 at Northwestern. He might be able to return for the Oct. 19 homecoming game in Orono against William & Mary.
UMaine hopes to maintain its focus with two weeks to prepare for The Tribe.
“We’re going to stay hungry for William & Mary,” Wasilewski said. “As far as mentally, there’s going to be no changes. We’re going to go right after it.”
Turnovers played an important role in UMaine’s ability to put Delaware in a big, early hole on Saturday.
The Bears returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns in the momentum-building first quarter, cashing in on both of the Blue Hens’ turnovers.
For the first time this season, UMaine did not turn the ball over. The Bears are 3-0 in games where they are even or win the turnover battle and are 2-1 in contests where the opponent had fewer turnovers.