ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team’s recent futility against the University of New Hampshire came to a resounding end on Thursday night.
UMaine, which had lost eight straight and 15 of its last 16 to its archrival, completely dominated the nationally-ranked Wildcats in a 35-7 Colonial Athletic Association victory at Morse Field in their mutual season opener.
UMaine captured the Brice-Cowell Musket, the trophy that goes to the winner in the series, for the first time since 2010.
“This is a new team. We wanted to prove who we are and we did that,” said sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson who completed 21 of 31 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
It was UMaine’s most lopsided win over UNH since a 57-24 triumph on Nov. 17, 2001.
UNH went into the game ranked in the top 10 in all three major Football Championship Subdivision polls.
UMaine outgained UNH 450-116.
“It feels amazing. It’s been too long … eight years,” said UMaine senior linebacker Sterling Sheffield, whose two sacks in the first nine minutes helped set the tone for the defense.
“We knew we needed to come out and smack them in the mouth … be physical and be violent from the start on defense, and we did that,” he said.
The Black Bears stunned the Wildcats in the first half and never looked back, outgaining UNH 276-45 en route to a 22-0 lead.
UMaine swelled the lead to 29-0 early in the third period on a razzle-dazzle play as wide receiver Earnest Edwards flipped the ball to tight end Drew Belcher for what appeared to a reverse. But Belcher, a converted quarterback, threw a pass to Jaquan Blair.
The ball was underthrown but Blair, who was tangled up with a defensive back, came back for the ball and caught it before breaking a tackle and dashing into the end zone. The play covered 52 yards.
“I’m so proud of them,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak.
“They deserved this. They work harder than any group I’ve ever been around,” he added.
UNH lost the services of standout senior quarterback Trevor Knight, the CAA Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to a right shoulder injury early in the second quarter. Sophomore backup Christian Lupoli threw a 62-yard TD pass to a wide-open Carlos Washington Jr. with 12:47 left in the game to account for UNH’s points.
North Yarmouth’s Joe Fitzpatrick capped the scoring with a 14-yard TD run with 2:04 remaining as he hurdled a would-be tackler before crossing the goal line.
“It was a terrific job by the University of Maine,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell, whose program owns an FCS-best streak of 14 playoff appearances.
“One, that football team has a bunch of talented kids on the offensive side of the ball and, two, their defense picked up right where they left off last year.”
UNH junior linebacker Quinlen Dean credited the Black Bears for their attack mentality and intensity.
The Black Bears also exhibited a lot of creativity on offense which kept the UNH defenders guessing and back on their heels.
Wide receivers Devin Young and Earnest Edwards each ran the ball three times, primarily on sweeps, with Young gaining 27 yards and Edwards collecting 25.
Ferguson was also able to make quick, one-step throws to his wide receivers when they were isolated on a defensive back.
“It was a game-plan thing,” said senior wide receiver Micah Wright. ”We have talented guys who can do stuff like that and we’re just trying to get the ball into their hands and let them work.”
Ferguson said UMaine was able to maintain a balance between the passing game (251 yards) and running game (199) that it wanted.
“Our offensive line did a tremendous job keeping me protected back there,” Ferguson said.
Wright said finally beating UNH was an indescribable feeling.
“I’ve waited for this moment since I got here as a freshman. It’s literally a dream come true,” he said.
The Black Bears strung together three impressive drives in the first half and also registered a safety when the snap sailed over punter Drew Sanborn’s head and he had to dive on it in the end zone.
Ferguson completed 15 of 20 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns: a six-yarder to Wright and an 11-yarder to Earnest Edwards.
Edwards also ran 17 yards for a touchdown, but was ejected from the game early in the second half after picking up his second “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty after the Blair touchdown.
UMaine opened the scoring four seconds into the second period as Wright fended off a defensive back to haul in the six-yarder in the corner of the end zone. That capped a 12-play, 88-yard drive.
The Black Bears went up 9-0 on the safety with 9:27 left in the half.
UMaine took Sanborn’s ensuing punt on the free kick at its 22-yard line and pieced together a seven-play, 78-yard drive.
Fitzpatrick picked up six yards on a third-and-one to extend the drive before redshirt freshman wide receiver Devin Young scampered 29 yards and Ferguson completed a five-yard pass to Jaquan Blair.
A 12-yard run by Ramon Jefferson set UMaine up at the UNH 17 and Edwards ran a sweep untouched into the end zone on the next play.