ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team has the rare opportunity to hoist the Colonial Athletic Association championship trophy on Saturday afternoon.
If the sixth-ranked Black Bears can beat New England rival Rhode Island and earn their 10th win of this season, they also will earn an automatic bid for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
UMaine has relied heavily on its 18-member senior class, which will be recognized prior to Saturday’s game — potentially its last on Morse Field.
“That’s something that we really wanted to emphasize, the opportunity for all of us to rally around that group of seniors, give a great effort during the week in preparation for Rhode Island, so that on Saturday we can perform at a high level in honor of our seniors in order for them to have the opportunity to walk off the field with a victory,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Rhode Island Rams (3-8, 2-5 CAA) vs. Maine Black Bears (9-1, 6-0 CAA), 12:30 p.m., Alfond Stadium, Orono: The Black Bears look to continue what has been a record-setting run against the Rams.
UMaine, which hasn’t won a conference title outright since 1965, can take the next step toward a possible first-round playoff bye and a second-round home game by beating Rhode Island.
The Bears, coming off a hard-fought 33-27 victory at Albany, are going after their 12th consecutive FCS win and their sixth in a row at home.
This contest pits UMaine’s high-powered offense (31.6 points, 434.2 yards per game) against a Rhody defense that has surrendered an average of 32.8 points and 434 yards.
The Bears’ senior offensive standouts are led by quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (206-for-301 passing, 2,482 yards, 20 touchdowns, 6 interceptions). He has not thrown an interception in five-plus games covering 144 pass attempts.
Other senior standouts include tailback Rickey Stevens (94 carries, 481 yds., 4 TDs) and wide receivers Derrick Johnson (49 receptions, 484 yds., 2 TDs) and John Ebeling (47-529-4), along with tight end Justin Perillo (33-421-3), who is sidelined by a knee injury.
Seniors Jeff Gakos, Joe Hook and Tyler Patterson of Owls Head spearhead the offensive line group.
The Rams, who have incurred a handful of linebackers to key players on defense, have allowed a CAA-worst 218.2 rushing yards per game.
The close call at Albany further reminded UMaine of the need to continue having a sense of urgency and focus.
“I think we’ve struggled a little bit the last couple weeks,” Cosgrove said. “We need to take care of ourselves and play Maine football and be ready for a great effort on [Rhode Island’s] part.”
On defense, UMaine is trying to tighten some things up, especially against the run. The Bears are fourth in CAA total defense (340 ypg) and scoring defense (22.2 ppg).
Seniors leading the defense include linebacker Troy Eastman (63 tackles, 2 INTs), injured safety Jamal Clay (38 tackles), cornerback Kendall James (28), ends Mike Cole (19 tackles, 7 sacks) and Erwin Roach (22 tackles) and backup safety Lamar Fitzgerald (26).
The Rams’ offense includes QB Bob Bentsen (178-for-320, 1,669 yds., 9 TDs, 10 INTs), back Robbie Delgado (145 carries, 473 yds., 3 TDs) and wide receivers Robbie Jackson (59 rec., 539 yds., 5 TDs).
“I think they have, in Jackson, a very good receiver and one of the better ones in the conference that we’ve seen,” said Cosgrove, who pointed out the kick return skills of Mackenzie Elliott (28.2-yard average).
Bear tracks: UMaine will be without both Clay (fingers) and Perillo, but freshman short-snapper Jeremy Salmon returns after missing two games with a head injury … other seniors include Nicholas Cox, Alban Dedvukaj and injured RBs Terrel Walker and Zedric Joseph.
Mount Ida Mustangs (4-5) at Husson Eagles (5-4), 1 p.m., Winkin Complex, Bangor: Coach Gabby Price’s Eagles will try to put the finishing touches on a bounce-back 2013 season with a home finale.
Husson is 4-2 in league play, while Mount Ida comes in at 3-3.
The Eagles will recognize a group of eight seniors that includes Byron Jackson, Ernest Wiggins, Cody Ziegenfus of Oakland, Ben Foss of Wales, Larry Foster of Hallowell, Doug Dieuveuil of Veazie, Brendan Walker and Devin Sherman of Benton.
Curry Colonels (3-5) vs. Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (1-7), noon, Ritchie Field, Castine: Coach Chris McKenney’s Mariners hope to end a tough 2013 campaign on a winning note.
MMA (3-3 in the New England Football Conference) also will honor its 10-member senior class. The group includes Billy Wetherbee of Veazie, Chase Hutchinson of Dover-Foxcroft, Drew Daveluy of Oakland, Ryan O’Neal, Spencer Bowring of South Portland, Gavin Cote of Arundel, Harpswell’s Frank True, Paul Stambach of Lisbon Falls, Abe Kilborn of Gorham and Shane Sullivan of Bucksport.