BOONE, N.C. — The University of Maine fully expected to arrive at Kidd Brewer Stadium and compete hard in Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision playoff game.
Few could have imagined how the Black Bears would dominate.
UMaine’s defense shut down the high-powered Mountaineers and the offense burned the hosts on five scoring plays of 21 yards or more to register a 34-12 NCAA second-round victory in front of 15,291 fans at “The Rock.”
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s 9-3 Black Bears, ranked No. 13 in the nation, earned their first postseason victory since a 14-13 win over Appalachian State in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
“We feel real special, honored and humbled to come down to a place like this and win,” Cosgrove said after the game. “I feel really good for these guys and it’s great to see them reap the benefits of their hard work.”
UMaine advances to next weekend’s NCAA national quarterfinal at third-ranked Georgia Southern, the No. 3 playoff seed. The third-ranked Golden Eagles (10-2) beat CAA member Old Dominion 55-48, coached by former UMaine assistant coach and QB Bobby Wilder, in a shootout at Statesboro, Ga.
The other three CAA schools in the playoffs, Towson, James Madison, New Hampshire lost their second-round games Saturday, leaving UMaine as the last CAA team standing.
“It means a lot to our program alumni and especially us as players,” said senior quarterback Warren Smith, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 250 yards and three three touchdowns with one interception.
“We are not satisfied yet and we won’t be satisfied until you know what (a national championship) happens,” he added.
It was the third victory in seven NCAA playoff appearances for UMaine, whose last postseason game was a first-round loss at Northern Iowa in 2008.
The defense set the tone for UMaine, shutting down the No. 8 Mountaineers (8-4) on the ground. Appalachian State, which had won 61 of its last 65 games at Brewer Stadium, managed only three rushing yards on the day on 25 attempts.
“We had the bye week and had extra time to prepare for them and get a feel for their top plays,” said junior linebacker Troy Russell, who made a team-high nine tackles, including a quarterback sack.
“Everyone executed like we were supposed to,” he added.
The Bears forced the Mountaineers to throw and responded with tight coverage and hard hits in the secondary. Cornerbacks Kendall James (interception) and Darlos James made seven and five tackles, respectively.
Khari Al-Mateen also had an interception.
Appalachian State finished with only 275 total yards, it’s second-lowest output of the season. The Bears dictated the action early in most of the series.
“It just came down to preparation, trusting the system and playing hard for four quarters,” said senior defensive tackle Raibonne Charles of Windham.
“When you knock them off schedule on first and second down, that’s huge,” he added.
The Bears’ offense kept ASU guessing. Senior tailback Pushaun Brown ran for 111 yards on 24 carries to anchor the run attack, which helped Smith and his corps of receivers carve up the Mountaineer secondary.
UMaine rolled up 466 yards, including a season-best 216 on the ground.
UMaine scored on its fourth offensive play when Smith faked an inside handoff and rolled right, throwing on the run to hit Damarr Aultman (5 catches, 117 yards) for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Bears threatened on their next possession as Smith and tight end Justin Perillo hooked up four times for 48 yards. However, the hosts caught a break when an apparent pass interference was waved off by officials, who ruled Smith’s pass to Aultman in the end zone to be “uncatchable.”
It hit Aultman in the shoulder pads.
UMaine then had Brian Harvey’s 20-yard field-goal try blocked.
The Mountaineers got as close as they would get six minutes into the second quarter when Jamal Jackson (25-for-45, 272 yds., 1 TD, 2 INTs) fired a 20-yard TD pass to Andrew Peacock. However, Doug Alston blocked the PAT kick to keep UMaine in front.
The Bears responded with an 80-yard march that featured Brown’s hard-nosed running. Smith later found Aultman on a 35-yard scoring toss with 4:51 to play. The PAT was blocked, leaving the Bears ahead 13-6.
UMaine extended the lead on its second possession of the third quarter after a shanked, 17-yard punt gave UMaine the ball at its own 42.
The eight-play drive included a gritty fourth-down run by Brown and culminated in Smith’s 21-yard TD toss to a wide-open John Ebeling. It was the first career catch for the former UMaine fourth-string quarterback.
After the fifth of six Appalachian State three-and-outs, redshirt freshman David Hood (4 carries, 88 yds.) took a first-down handoff, bounced off a hit and bolted 54 yards down the right sideline for a score that put UMaine on top 27-6 with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
“We got out (for long runs) a few times and enough times to separate ourselves and give us a good run-pass balance and keep them on their heels a little bit,” Cosgrove said. “We felt like we could run our offense as long as our guys played physical.”
The Mountaineers managed one more TD on Travaris Cadet’s 1-yard run on the first play of the fourth period, but Brown’s 31-yard TD jaunt later in the quarter put the game out of reach.
Brian Quick made seven catches for 41 yards and Andrew Peacock had six for 75 yards to lead ASU.