In the Colonial Athletic Association preseason football poll, the University of Maine was picked to finish eighth in the 12-team league.
But the Black Bears have proven the coaches and media relations directors wrong.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson threw four touchdown passes and the Black Bear defense held Richmond to 29 rushing yards on Saturday en route to a 28-9 victory that sewed up at least a share of the CAA regular-season title.
UMaine (7-3) is now 6-1 in the conference and in sole possession of first place. The Black Bears would win the title outright with a victory over visiting Elon next Saturday at noon in Orono.
Elon is one of five teams with 4-2 CAA records although the Phoenix can’t catch UMaine because their September game with William & Mary was postponed and eventually cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.
James Madison, Towson, Stony Brook and Delaware are all 5-2 but Towson plays James Madison so one of them will finish with three league losses. Delaware hosts 1-6 Villanova and Stony Brook visits 0-7 Albany.
Richmond fell to 3-7 and 1-6, respectively.
“We didn’t care what people outside of Maine were saying (about us). We believed in ourselves,” junior wide receiver Earnest Edwards said in the postgame press conference.
Edwards caught touchdown passes of four and 29 yards.
Ferguson also threw a 6-yard TD pass to Jaquan Blair and a 15-yarder to Micah Wright before re-injuring his throwing shoulder and leaving the game in the second half.
“I am so happy for the team. I am so proud of the players and the assistant coaches,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak.
Harasymiak presented the game ball to Charity Wines, the mother of late UMaine freshman defensive back Darius Minor, who collapsed and died of a heart condition during supervised workouts in Orono in July. He was from Locust Grove, Va.
Ten of Minor’s family members attended the game, according to Harasymiak.
The Black Bears took a lead they would never relinquish when they marched 65 yards on the opening drive with Edwards hauling in the 4-yard TD pass on the 11th play of the drive. A 19-yard pass from Ferguson to Wright on third-and-8 at the UR 23 set up the TD.
UMaine made it 14-0 later in the first period with a seven-play, 76-yard march that featured a 42-yard pass from Ferguson to Edwards and a 10-yarder to Blair on third-and-seven at the UR-31.
The Spiders got on the scoreboard with 13:15 left in the second period when Trau Griffin kicked a 23-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 60-yard drive.
On the Spiders’ next possession, senior strong safety Jeffrey DeVaughn intercepted Kevin Johnson at the UR 36, UMaine eventually cashed in when Edwards gathered in the 29-yard TD pass on a third-and-18 play.
“(Ferguson) and I have developed a great chemistry over the years,” said Edwards.
The UMaine defense created another Richmond turnover in the third quarter and it led to Ferguson’s 15-yard TD strike to Wright. Kayon Whitaker forced a Gordon Collins fumble after his reception and Taji Lowe recovered it at the UR 46.
Facing a third-and-20 at the UR-45, Ferguson found Blair for a 19-yard gain and then Ferguson picked up the first down on fourth-and-one with a 2-yard run.
Spiders quarterback Reid Chenault capped the scoring with a 7-yard run with 2:10 remaining in the game.
Ferguson completed 20 of 32 passes for 229 yards and the four TDs. He wasn’t intercepted.
Blair matched his career high with seven catches for 59 yards, Edwards had six for 105 and Wright corralled five for 72 yards. Wright’s TD reception was the 20th of his career and he has moved into seventh place in UMaine’s all-time receptions list with 160. He is sixth in receiving yards (2,143).
Wright also had a 38-yard punt return.
Edwards went over the 100-yard mark in receiving yards for the third time in the last four games.
After being shut down on the ground in the first half, the Black Bears were able to establish a running game in the second half. Ramon Jefferson finished the game with 53 yards on 18 carries and freshman Adrian Velez added 35 on seven carries.
“They had seven and eight in the box in the first half but the offensive line did a better job in the second half and we made some adjustments (at halftime),” said Harasymiak who said they will re-evaluate Ferguson’s shoulder early next week.
DeVaughn had a team-high six tackles to go with his interception.
“We had great execution from our defense and our wide receivers made some big-time catches,” said Harasymiak.
Jaron Grayer made five tackles with a sack for UMaine, which held Richmond to two third-down conversions in 13 attempts.
Chenault (7 carries, 32 yards) completed 19 of 34 passes for 224 yards, Jarmal Bevels made seven catches for 85 yards and Andrew Tsangeos had five for 61. Daniel Jones registered a game-high 12 tackles for Richmond with Trent Williams and Dale Matthews posting 11 each.