No. 6 UMaine football team on verge of CAA championship, playoff berth

Posted Nov. 11, 2013, at 1:53 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 11, 2013, at 4:51 p.m.
UMaine head football coach Jack Cosgrove calls out instructions during a practice earlier this season. Cosgrove’s Black Bears can guarantee themselves a spot in the FCS playoffs by beating Rhode Island Saturday in Orono.
UMaine head football coach Jack Cosgrove calls out instructions during a practice earlier this season. Cosgrove’s Black Bears can guarantee themselves a spot in the FCS playoffs by beating Rhode Island Saturday in Orono. Buy Photo

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team is chasing down a dream during what already has been a historic season.

Even so, there was some questioning from some fans in the wake of the Black Bears’ 33-27 victory over Albany on Saturday.

How, some wondered, could the then-No. 8 team in the Football Championship Subdivision barely beat the Colonial Athletic Association cellar dweller?

New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell pointed out Monday that UAlbany (1-9) has lost four games this season by a total of 18 points.

“Make no mistake about it, there’s a great deal of satisfaction here for us to go there and get this win,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.

“It’s never as pretty as you think it is, nor as ugly, when you watch a tape from Saturday,” he added.

UMaine won for the sixth straight time and in doing so achieved a program first by improving its record to 9-1 (6-0 CAA).

The sixth-ranked Black Bears can guarantee themselves a spot in the FCS playoffs by beating Rhode Island Saturday in Orono. It would clinch the CAA championship and the NCAA automatic berth.

UMaine, which shared Atlantic 10 crowns in 2001 and 2002, has not won a league title outright since it claimed the Yankee Conference championship in 1965 — 48 years ago.

“Fortunately, we’re in a situation that we’re playing football games that mean more than just the next one on the schedule,” Cosgrove said.

UMaine, ranked No. 8 through Nov. 2, is vying for one of 24 FCS playoff spots. It also is trying to claim one of the top eight national seeds, which would mean a first-round bye on Nov. 30 and a second-round home game in Orono.

That likely will require the Black Bears to win their last two regular-season games.

“That’s where everybody wants to be at this time of year,” Cosgrove said. “We’re just so blessed and fortunate to be there, so that’s really no excuse not to have our eyes on our next opponent.”

Cosgrove said the biggest key to taking the subsequent steps is keeping the players focused on their preparation and attitude despite the distractions that arise from media reports and comments from family, friends and social media.

He said the physical grind of the season is taking a toll as the Bears move into Week 12. Senior tight end Justin Perillo (knee) and senior safety Jamal Clay (hand) were among the starters who missed Saturday’s contest.

The Bears’ ability to work hard and remain humble will help determine whether this team can make a run at a national championship.

“There’s just a lot of things that I think, hope, are going to allow our guys to be focused, locked in, to the opportunity that we have,” Cosgrove said.

Mulumba continues to shine

Saturday was another productive day for UMaine middle linebacker Chris Mulumba. The redshirt freshman earned his fourth CAA Rookie of the Week honor after making 19 tackles.

“He’s a run-stopping linebacker,” Cosgrove said. “He got himself involved in there and did a nice job and he continues to grow and improve and get better as the season goes along.”

Mulumba, a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Montreal, is UMaine’s tackle leader, and ranks third in the CAA, with 93.

“No disrespect meant, but he’s coming from a Canadian background. I always thought Canadian guys were good at hockey and lacrosse and those things,” Cosgrove quipped. “He’s growing in that regard, learning the game more. He really has made great strides in his first year here.”

No turnovers, no problems

UMaine’s ability to avoid turnovers has been pivotal in its recent success. The Black Bears have gone more than 21 quarters without committing a fumble or an interception.

“If you can look up and say now five games since the last time we turned the thing over, I’ve got to knock on my desk here because that’s just a phenomenal statistic,” Cosgrove said.

Dating back to the second quarter of the Sept. 28 win at Richmond, UMaine has not thrown any interceptions. Senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski has attempted 145 consecutive throws without an interception, completing 103 (71 percent).

The Bears have fumbled five times in their last six games, but have not lost any of them.

UMaine is plus-five in turnover ratio (17 takeaways, 12 turnovers), which ranks in the top 25 in the FCS.

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