SMITHFIELD, R.I. — The University of Maine realized it could not take Bryant University for granted.
Despite the disparity in their respective levels of play and the number of players each has on scholarship, the Black Bears turned in a businesslike performance Saturday afternoon.
UMaine sliced up the Bulldogs’ defense on the way to 581 total yards and the defense was stout in posting a resounding 51-7 victory at Bulldog Stadium.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s 1-1 Black Bears unleashed two 100-yard rushers in Rickey Stevens (17 carries, 168 yards) and David Hood (14-102) and received a 229-yard passing performance from Marcus Wasilewski (14-for-20, 1 touchdown) while dismantling Bryant (0-3) of the Northeast Conference.
“The mentality was the same,” Wasilewski said of preparing for the Bulldogs after facing Boston College a week earlier. “You’re playing 100 yards and in between the lines, that’s all that matters to us. We wanted to come down here ready to go and get a win and that’s what we did.”
UMaine churned out 352 rushing yards , averaging 7.8 yards per carry, behind an offensive line that included tackles Josh Spearin of Limington and Joe Hook, guards Chris Howley and Jeff Gakos, center Garret Williamson, and tight end Justin Perillo.
“Once you establish the run, it opens up a lot of things for our offense, so that’s what we kind of did today,” said Hood, who had TD runs of 2 and 1 yard in the second quarter to help UMaine build a 31-0 bulge.
With the run game clicking, a well-protected Wasilewski kept the chains moving, throwing to Maurice McDonald (5 catches, 50 yds.) and Derrick Johnson (3-92).
Johnson took a short pass from Wasilewski on the first play of the second half and bolted downfield for a 75-yard scoring reception.
“It makes it a lot easier on me,” he said of the run success.
“We wanted to get our first win under our belts,” Wasilewski added. “We felt that it was really important to make that first stride, to get ourselves better.”
The defense exhibited both long-term stinginess and big-play capabilities. Behind Donte Dennis’ seven tackles, the Bears allowed only 186 yards.
Khari Al-Mateen and Kendall James each turned in a dynamic interception return, which covered 177 yards, a UMaine single-game record.
Al-Mateen picked off Bryant’s Mike Westerhaus (11-for-25, 84 yds.) and bolted 77 yards for a score in the first quarter.
“I kind of knew the ball was coming,” Al-Mateen said of the route. “Once it was there, I had to finish and make a play. It was just green grass from there.”
James’ heroics came early in the third quarter. Jordan Brown’s halfback pass over the middle was tipped by UMaine’s Axel Ofori.
James alertly snared it out of the air a yard deep in the end zone, his back to the field. He turned and seemed to hesitate, if only for a split-second, before making his move.
“I was coming out,” James said. “I was looking touchdown the whole way.”
On the sidelines, Cosgrove was less sure about the decision, at first.
“Coach Cos was telling him to take a knee,’” said Cosgrove, who wasn’t sure where James had caught the ball.
“Then I went ‘oh, shoot,’ because he’s coming out. Then, all of a sudden, I went, ‘holy cow!’” as James outraced the Bulldogs all the way to the end zone.
The effort matched the school record of 100 yards set by Dave Brown against Bowdoin in 1962.
Backup safety Aamad Bush made six tackles for UMaine, which was playing its second-string players by late in the third quarter.
UMaine scored on five of its six possessions in the first 30 minutes and the defense afforded the Bulldogs only 108 yards, 32 of which came on one run by Brown (17 carries, 63 yds.).
“I think this [Maine] team has the chance to accomplish what last year’s did,” said Bryant coach Marty Fine. “This team is very fast, and their offensive line played awfully well today.”
UMaine scored on its first series, which started with a 29-yard jaunt by Hood and was capped by Wasilewski’s 5-yard touchdown run at the 9:31 mark.
Al-Mateen’s interception return for a score halted a Bryant drive that had covered 50 yards and more than four minutes.
The Bulldogs completed one long pass (29 yards) on the ensuing possession, but failed on a fourth-down play at the UM 37.
UMaine punted on its next possession, but it was downed at the 1-yard line by Johnson and Mike Mangiarelli. Bryant couldn’t move the ball and punted into the wind on the final play of the quarter.
The Bears took over at the 35 and needed nine plays to score, on Hood’s 1-yard leap. Brian Harvey’s PAT made it 21-0 with 10:45 left in the half.
Another stop by the defense opened the door for another UMaine scoring drive. Wasilewski’s 23-yard screen pass to Hood and Stevens’ 46-yard run helped set up another 1-yard run by Hood.
The Bears got the ball back one more time and settled for Harvey’s 23-yard field goal with 14.4 seconds left. that made it 31-zip.
With UMaine leading 45-0, Isaiah Jones had a memorable first carry at the college level as he scooted 30 yards for a touchdown with 7:50 left in the third quarter.
Bryant finally got on the board with a 15-play, 80-yard march in the fourth quarter that culminated in Westerhaus’ 1-yard dive with 6:27 remaining.
Robert Rutland and Aaron Dixon made nine tackles each to pace the Bulldogs.
UMaine returns to action Saturday with a 6 p.m. nonleague game against Albany at Alfond Stadium in Orono.