November 17, 2018
University of Maine Black Bear Sports Latest News | Poll Questions | Bangor Arrest | Jared Golden | Weather

Underdog UMaine savors come-from-behind win against Western Kentucky

Ronnie Gillis | UMaine Athletics
Ronnie Gillis | UMaine Athletics
University of Maine linebacker Sterling Sheffield (6) bears down on Western Kentucky quarterback Drew Eckels during Saturday night's football game in Bowling Green, Ky. Sheffield spearheaded a defensive effort that helped UMaine of the Football Championship Subdivision knock off the Hilltoppers of the more highly regarded Football Bowl Subdivision.

Sterling Sheffield has a dentist appointment on Tuesday.

The University of Maine’s senior linebacker had one of his bottom front teeth knocked out during Saturday’s 31-28 upset victory over Football Bowl Subdivision team Western Kentucky.

He actually found the tooth but it couldn’t be restored.

That didn’t stop Sheffield from flashing a grin after a memorable victory that saw the Black Bears (2-0) fall behind 21-0 just 5:03 into the game before storming back.

It was the Football Championship Subdivision program’s third win ever over an FBS team — one with 22 more scholarships and better overall talent. The others coming against Mississippi State and the University of Massachusetts.

Sheffield was one of the critical components to a Black Bear defense that held the Hilltoppers to seven points and 267 total yards after 21-point onslaught at the outset of the game.

For the second straight game, the Black Bears registered six sacks. Western Kentucky converted only 3 of 16 third-down attempts and went 0-for-2 on fourth down.

Sheffield logged a game-high 12 tackles and forced a fumble on a sack of Drew Eckels that was scooped up by fellow linebacker Deshawn Stevens and returned 50 yards for a game-tying TD in the third period.

Deshawn Stevens was in on nine tackles, and he and Sheffield were each credited with 1.5 sacks. Defensive back Mozai Nelson had two sacks among his six tackles.

Sheffield also teamed up with defensive lineman Andrew Stevens to thwart a fourth-and-1 play when Western Kentucky gambled on its own 15-yard line with seven minutes left in the third period.

On the next play, UMaine quarterback Chris Ferguson threw a 15-yard TD pass to Micah Wright to give UMaine the lead for good.

Sheffield said he wasn’t surprised the Hilltoppers went for it that deep in their own territory.

“They snapped it quick, but they lined up in the same formation they were in on the previous play, so we were ready,” Sheffield said.

Stevens broke through, and Sheffield joined him to haul down Marquez Trigg for no gain. Trigg had gained one yard on the previous play.

Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford took responsibility for the risky call that backfired.

“That call was detrimental to the overall course of the game, no doubt about it,” Sanford said at the press conference. “I wanted to give our guys the opportunity to earn a fourth-down conversion. We needed some juice. We needed the offense to get that push.”

Sheffield said that was an important play in the game, but he also felt UMaine’s first touchdown, coming on a 51-yard pass from Ferguson to Ramon Jefferson with 10:20 left in the first half, was a big moment.

“That ignited us. Something finally went our way,” Sheffield said.

Sanford credited the Black Bears for their effort.

“To be able to rip off 31 straight points … you have to give a lot of credit to coach [Joe] Harasymiak and their team for their resiliency,” Sanford said.

Sheffield said the Black Bears were confident and didn’t panic when they fell behind. Mistakes cost them on WKU’s early scores, including a 45-yard pass interception return by Devon Keyk.

“We felt we could handle them up front and control the line of scrimmage,” Sheffield said.

Even though they were decided underdogs, Sheffield said UMaine had the collective confidence that the Black Bears could win.

Harasymiak credited his players for not being overwhelmed mentally after falling behind early.

“The guys had great demeanor and focus on each drive. We had to grind it out. It wasn’t going to happen all at once,” Harasymiak said.

He praised the senior class for its leadership.

“They don’t want to go through what we’ve gone through the last couple of years, being a .500 team and losing a lot of close games. We have talent but that can only carry so far. You have to be mentally strong,” Harasymiak said.

Harasymiak said another key was UMaine’s ability to stuff the Hilltoppers’ running game, holding them to 42 yards on 31 carries. That made WKU one-dimensional and enabled UMaine to get pressure on quarterback Drew Eckels (23-for-41 passing, 347 yards, and three TDs).

“Our ability to rush the passer on third down was a pretty special thing,” Harasymiak said.

UMaine was without linebackers Taji Lowe and Jaron Grayer and center Chris Mulvey due to injuries, and speedy wide receiver Earnest Edwards was hurt early in the game.

Harasymiak said he expects all three to be back for the Black Bears’ next game, a Sept. 22 visit to another FBS opponent, Central Michigan.

Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like