December 15, 2018
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UMaine football has a chance to make history tonight

Courtesy of Peter Buehner
Courtesy of Peter Buehner
Micah Wright of the University of Maine leaps into the arms of fellow wide receiver Jaquan Blair after Wright caught a touchdown pass during Saturday's Football Championship Subdivision playoff game against Jacksonville State at Alfond Stadium in Orono. Drew Belcher joins the celebration. The Black Bears knocked off the Gamecocks 55-27 to advance to the national quarterfinals.

ORONO, Maine — Jeffrey DeVaughn wants to force the University of Maine to add some new decor to the walls in the locker room and outside the football offices, where there are pictures of some of the best Black Bear players and teams of all time.

UMaine already made history by winning a home playoff game for the first time in the program’s 126 years as the Black Bears topped Jacksonville State 55-27 last Saturday.

Now the 12th-ranked Black Bears (9-3), the No. 7 playoff seed, can become the first UMaine team to reach the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals if it can knock off third-ranked Weber State (10-2), seeded second, on Friday night in Ogden, Utah.

“We want to be known as the best Maine team in history,” said DeVaughn, a graduate student strong safety who is a team co-captain. “I want our class to be known as the best class ever. I want to come back 10, 15 years from now, or even five years from now, and be able to say we were the best team ever.”

Visit bangordailynews.com starting at 8 p.m. Friday to find our live blog, where we’ll be following the game in real time

DeVaughn wants a photo of this year’s six seniors to be added to UMaine’s photo gallery, but UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said they have to win first.

The other senior starters are tight end/H-back Drew Belcher, offensive tackle Cody Levy, free safety Darrius Hart, linebacker Sterling Sheffield and wide receiver Micah Wright.

“It’s a thrill to think about. It’s pretty exciting,” Wright said.

“We have the opportunity, on paper, to be the best team to ever put on this uniform,” Harasymiak said. “They know getting to the Final Four for the first time in program history on national television [ESPN2] would be pretty awesome.”

Even though UMaine won the Colonial Athletic Association championship outright — after being picked to finish eighth — Sheffield said the Black Bears have not received the respect they deserve.

According to oddsmakers, Weber State — which is 6-0 at home and the winner of nine straight home games — is favored by between 6 1/2 and 7 points.

“We will continue to be underdogs. We’ve been underdogs our whole lives. It’s nothing new,” Sheffield said. “That give us extra motivation. It adds fuel to the fire.”

In addition to facing an outstanding Weber State team, the Black Bears must deal with a dramatic change in altitude. Ogden is 4,300 feet above sea level compared to Orono, which is 125 feet above sea level.

But UMaine offensive line coach Pat Denecke, a former assistant coach at the University of Nevada in Reno, which is 4,506 above sea level, said it shouldn’t be an issue.

“You just have to make sure you get your sleep and stay hydrated,” Denecke said. “Elevation can dry you out a little bit. You dehydrate faster. We’ll do a little bit of extra conditioning.”

UMaine is prepared to pull out all the stops to beat the Wildcats.

Against Jacksonville State, the Black Bears scored a touchdown on a trick play when Ferguson pretended to fumble only to stand up and toss a 3-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Belcher.

“We always have tricks,” UMaine offensive coordinator Nick Charlton said with a grin. “We practice them and carry a bunch into every weekend. We use them when we feel it’s the right time.”

Those plays could be even more valuable now that a loss means the end of the season.

Wright said the game will come down to which team executes better.

“We have some stuff we think will work against them, and I’m sure they have stuff that will work against us,” Wright said.

Harasymiak said the game will be decided in the trenches.

“It’s playoff football. There’s an identity that needs to be built, and we’re creating that,” Harasymiak said. “If we can play well on the offensive line and do what we’ve doing on the defensive line, keeping pressure on the passer, that will put us in good shape.”

He also said UMaine must avoid turnovers and not give Weber State good field position resulting in short scoring drives.

Executing kickoffs and punts, and covering them well are other keys as Weber State has two dynamic returners in Rashid Shaheed and Josh Davis.


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