The University of Maine football team has been receiving valuable contributions from freshmen this season with running back Josh Mack headlining the list.
The other first-year players to earn playing time are cornerback Manny Patterson, wide receiver Earnest Edwards and defensive end Alejandro Oregon.
Mack and Patterson see regular duty, and Edwards and Oregon are reserves who get a handful of reps each game.
Mack rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries in UMaine’s come-from-behind 35-31 win over Bryant University on Saturday, a performance that earned him Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week honors.
Mack had 48 rushing yards on six carries in the first half and added 103 yards on 15 carries in the second half. All three touchdowns came in the second half to help UMaine erase a 21-0 deficit.
He also caught a pass for 11 yards to pick up a valuable first down in the fourth quarter, which UMaine coach Joe Harasymiak called “the best play he made all night.”
UMaine was protecting a 35-31 lead midway through the fourth quarter and was facing third-and-11 at its own 34-yard line.
Mack caught the screen pass and was able to weave his way down the left sideline to pick up a valuable first down and extend the drive. It also enabled the Black Bears to take more time off the clock.
“He made something out of nothing,” said Harasymiak on Monday. “It was blocked well, but he had to make some [tacklers] miss.”
Mack is UMaine’s leading rusher with 177 yards on 32 attempts (5.5 yards per carry). His three scoring runs marked the first time a Black Bear running back had rushed for three touchdowns since 2011.
Patterson is tied for the team lead in pass breakups with four and has been in on three tackles.
“He has a tremendous amount of talent, and he fits with the particular style of defense we play,” said Harasymiak. “He is probably our fastest defensive back, and he has great technique. He is very mature for his age, and he’s also great on special teams.”
Patterson ran the 100-meter dash in 10.83 seconds in high school, and he also posted a time of 6.53 seconds in the 55-meter dash.
Edwards has yet to catch a pass but has carried the ball three times for 39 yards. He ran for a 23-yard touchdown on his first collegiate carry in the 31-20 loss to James Madison.
He had two rushes for 16 yards against Bryant.
“He has started to get more involved in the the offense. He is feeling more comfortable understanding the system,” said Harasymiak. “He is good with the ball in his hands. We’ll feature him in some other stuff.”
Oregon has been in on seven tackles through four games.
“He had a lot of talent,” said Harasymiak.
The UMaine coach said the biggest challenge for the freshmen is the mental aspect of the game, learning the system and techniques required to be successful.
“Once they learn it, the physical talent takes over,” said Harasymiak, who feels he has a strong freshman class.
Special teams improved
Harasymiak also has been pleased with UMaine’s special teams.
A 53-yard punt return by Micah Wright set up UMaine’s fourth touchdown against Bryant and DeAndre Scott had a 61-yard kickoff return against JMU and a 44-yarder on Saturday.
UMaine is fifth in the 12-team CAA in kickoff returns (22.2-yard average) and in punt returns (7.1) after being 11th in both categories a year ago when it averaged 17.3 and 3.5, respectively.
UMaine also limited Bryant’s return potential in the second half, when its average starting point on five Patrick Leonard’s kickoffs was its 23-yard line. Three of them went to fullback Peter Corbett, who called for fair catches on each.
“We spend a lot of time on special teams,” said Harasymiak, who felt it was a key component in Saturday’s victory as it gave them momentum.
Suspended players return
Harasymiak said backup quarterback Drew Belcher, running back Darian Davis-Ray and offensive tackle Cody Levy will be available this weekend after missing the Bryant game because of suspensions.
The suspensions involved a violation of team rules that occurred last year.
UMaine has been without at least one player because of suspension every game this season, and five of the six suspended players were the result of team rule violations from last year.
All of the carryover suspensions have been served, said Harasymiak.