March 22, 2019
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CAA football coaches expect UMaine-Elon showdown to be a tight battle

Daniel Lin | AP
Daniel Lin | AP
James Madison tight end Dylan Stapleton (84) fights for extra yards as he is brought down by Elon defensive backs Greg Liggs Jr. (21) and Efrim Borders (10) during the first half of an NCAA football game in Harrisonburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

The three coaches who most recently played both the University of Maine and Elon University (North Carolina) said Saturday’s noon showdown between the two at Alfond Stadium in Orono should be a gem.

UMaine, 7-3 overall and 6-1 in the conference, can claim the Colonial Athletic Association championship outright with a win. Elon, 6-3 and 4-2, needs to win to keep its Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes alive.

Elon cannot claim a share of the conference title because Hurricane Florence forced the postponement and eventual cancellation of its conference game against William and Mary.

“They are both physical football teams who will want to establish the run,” said Richmond coach Russ Huesman, whose Spiders lost to UMaine 28-9 at home and to Elon 38-28 on the road. “They’re very similar football teams. It’s going to be a great game.

“They’re going to try to pound each other, physically, on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a toss-up. They’re both excellent football teams. I’m not sure how it will come out. Obviously, Maine playing at home is a huge advantage,” Huesman added.

“Anybody who is playing Maine is going to have their hands full,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose, whose team lost to UMaine 35-28 two weekends ago at home but rebounded to beat Elon 41-10 in North Carolina on Saturday. “Joe [UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak] has done a tremendous job. They’re extremely well-coached. They’re very tough, very physical and very smart, and they hunt the ball.”

“Elon has a really good football team, too,” Ambrose said.

“It’s going to be an interesting matchup with Elon’s ability to run the football and Maine’s ability to stop the run,” said Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming, whose Rams lost to UMaine 38-26 at home and to Towson 24-21 in Maryland. “Elon has been one-dimensional after losing its quarterback [Davis Cheek].”

Cheek, the 2017 CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, had season-ending knee surgery after getting injured in a 28-16 loss to Delaware on Oct. 13.

The previous weekend, in a 27-24 win at James Madison, the Phoenix had lost leading rusher Malcolm Summers to a season-ending hamstring injury.

In the three games since Cheek was hurt, sophomore quarterback Jalen Greene has thrown 38 passes, completing 15 of them for 270 yards, while the Phoenix have rushed the ball 145 times for 772 yards.

Cheek had completed 79 of 120 passes for 1,018 yards and four TDs with two interceptions.

Elon has rushed for at least 192 yards in eight of its nine games, and its 221.2 yards per game average is top in the league. It has rushed for at least 208 yards in six games. The Phoenix runners are averaging 4.8 yards per carry, led by Jaylan Thomas’ 658 yards in 85 carries and 7.7 yards per rush average.

UMaine has allowed only one team to rush for more than 100 yards and has the nation’s second-best run defense at 65.4 allowed per game. Towson rushed for 142 yards but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. Overall, opposings runners are averaging just two yards per carry vs. UMaine.

Besides UMaine, the other teams in the title hunt are 5-2 James Madison, Towson, Delaware and Stony Brook.

James Madison visits Towson on Saturday while Delaware hosts Villanova (1-6) and Stony Brook visits 0-7 Albany.

“It’s going to be an exciting last weekend of the regular season because so many games mean so much,” Towson’s Ambrose said.

If UMaine loses to Elon, several tie-breaking scenarios would still give UMaine the automatic berth to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as the league’s top seed.

UMaine would get the automatic qualifier if it winds up tied with only Towson because it won the regular season meeting; if it is tied with James Madison or tied with both James Madison and Stony Brook as long as New Hampshire (3-4) finishes above William and Mary (3-3) in the standings; or if it finishes as the highest-ranked team in the Sagarin Ratings while winding up tied with Towson and Stony Brook or Towson, Stony Brook and Delaware.

UNH will visit 3-4 Rhode Island and 1-6 Richmond will go to Williamsburg, Virginia, for the final game of William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock’s 39-year career at the school.

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