March 22, 2019
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UMaine, Rhode Island preparing for clash of CAA contenders with backup quarterbacks

Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
Courtesy of UMaine Athletics
University of Maine quarterback Isaiah Robinson (7) calls a play against Central Michigan on Sept. 22, 2018, in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

The University of Maine was picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason football poll. The University of Rhode Island was predicted to finish last (12th).

When they face off at Meade Stadium in Kingston, Rhode Island, at noon Saturday, they will be two of just four teams that are undefeated in league play. Both are 2-0. Rhode Island hasn’t won more than two conference games in a season since 2010 (4-4).

UMaine rebounded from a 35-14 loss at Yale two weeks ago to nip Villanova on Saturday on Kenny Doak’s school-record tying 52-yard field goal as time expired. Meanwhile, Rhode Island was thumping in-state rival Brown University 48-0.

Rhode Island is now 4-1 overall, which represents its best start since the 2001 campaign when the Rams began the season 7-0. UMaine is now 3-2 overall.

Rhode Island moved up from 18th to 16th in the latest STATS Football Championship Subdivision poll, while UMaine climbed from 25th to 21st.

Saturday’s game will be the 96th between the two teams with UMaine holding a 58-34-3 edge including 11 straight wins and 16 in the last 17 meetings.

For the Black Bears, it could be the second game in a row that involving a battle of backup quarterbacks.

In his second career start, redshirt freshman Isaiah Robinson completed 16 of 30 passes for 146 yards. He also picked up 43 yards rushing although he wound up with a net 13 yards because he was sacked twice. He was intercepted twice.

He is filling in for the injured Chris Ferguson (throwing shoulder).

Rhode Island redshirt sophomore Vito Priore, playing in place of JaJuan Lawson (knee), completed 19 of 25 passes for 310 yards and four TDs versus Brown.

“[Lawson] is starting to move around a little bit. We’re hoping to have him back this weekend,” said Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming, who added that he was very pleased with Priore’s performance.

Lawson, who got hurt against Harvard two weekends ago, is a double threat as he has completed 70 of 99 yards for 991 yards and 10 touchdowns, and has also rushed for 181 yards and three TDs on 33 carries.

UMaine coach Joe Harasymiak said Ferguson is also getting better and they will re-evaluate him this week. Ferguson completed 35 of 63 passes for 405 yards and five TDs before being injured in the first quarter of a 17-5 loss to Central Michigan on Sept. 22.

Harasymiak said Robinson is improving as he gets more comfortable with the offense. Offensive coordinator Nick Charlton implemented some option running plays enabling Robinson to use his feet to pick up yardage and diversify the offense. Harasymiak also noted that Robinson did a nice job managing the game-winning, nine-play, 48-yard driver over the game’s final 1:39 that resulted in Doak’s game-winning field.

Robinson said running the ball is “part of my game.

“I want to be able to extend plays and pick up first downs,” said Robinson, who also had a couple of productive scrambles in addition to the designed runs.

Robinson also showed a runner’s mentality by taking on tacklers rather than sliding to the turf like a lot of quarterbacks.

“I like to fight for extra yards,” he said.

UMaine racked up 308 total yards against Villanova, including 143 rushing yards.

Harasymiak is looking for more consistency from his offense, and it may be necessary on Saturday because the Rams are averaging 37.2 points and 415.2 yards per game, third and fourth, respectively, in the CAA.

“We moved the ball. Our [two] scoring drives involved 15 and 14 plays,” Harasymiak said. “But we had too many negative [yardage] plays at bad times. We have to make sure we stay ahead of the chains.”

The Black Bears were without shifty running back Ramon Jefferson (hamstring), and they have lost starting sophomore cornerback Jordan Swann for the season with a thumb injury suffered against Yale that required surgery.

Since Swann played in just four games, under a new NCAA rule, he will earn a medical redshirt and not lose a year of eligibility, according to Harasymiak.

The defense limited Villanova to 181 total yards after a poor performance at Yale.

“We were really upset after the Yale game. The effort that we take for granted wasn’t there. We got back to doing what we had been doing. [Defensive coordinator] Corey Hetherman and his staff had a great game plan, and we attacked and were physical.”

Linebacker Deshawn Stevens had eight tackles, including two sacks, and was the CAA Defensive Player of the Week, while Doak was the co-Special Teams Player of the Week.

UMaine’s defense has allowed a league-low 250.2 yards per game and its 19.4 points allowed per game is tied for third.

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