It didn’t take Chris Ferguson long this season to become the first University of Maine quarterback since 2012 to throw for more than 400 yards in a game.
One half, to be exact.
The junior torched the Pioneers for 404 yards and three touchdowns in the first 30 minutes Friday night as seventh-ranked UMaine built a commanding lead en route to a season-opening 42-14 victory before 7,478 at Morse Field.
Ferguson, who exited late in the third period, finished with 23 completions in 29 attempts for 423 yards. He completed his first 11 passes for 270 yards.
The last UMaine quarterback to throw for 400 yards was Marcus Wasilewski, who racked up 409 in a 35-14 win over Villanova on Sept. 29, 2012.
Several of his Ferguson’s completions required pinpoint accuracy because his receivers were well-covered.
Ferguson tossed scoring passes of eight yards to Earnest Edwards, 10 yards to Devin Young and 14 yards to Jaquan Blair. Blair finished with seven receptions for 140 yards. Andre Miller caught five passes for 53 yards, Young had four receptions for 104 yards and Edwards hauled in three balls for 84 yards.
“I had guys open and I didn’t get touched much because the offensive line did an unbelievable job,” Ferguson said. “The wide receivers were patient, they did what they had to do and they made plays. And the running backs opened up the run game which made it easier to throw.”
Ferguson compared his performance to his five-touchdown games against Jacksonville State (Alabama) last year and Rhode Island in 2017.
“You’re just seeing everything and you’re slowing down. It’s a tribute to the work I put in during the offseason and obviously into the summer and [training] camp,” Ferguson said.
Sacred Heart coach Mark Nofri said Ferguson was outstanding.
“He put the ball right in there every single time.”
“[Ferguson’s] confidence has grown tremendously,” Blair said. “He is reading defenses faster. He knows where to put the ball and what coverages they’re running. And he has become a better leader.”
Several times, the UMaine receivers outfought the Sacred Heart secondary for balls in traffic.
“When the ball is in the air, we feel we’re going to get it. Chris puts the ball where we’re the only ones who can make plays and we go out and compete for them,” Blair said.
It was the Black Bears’ sixth straight win at Alfond Stadium and their fourth home-opening victory in a row.
Sacred Heart of the Northeast Conference had its string of six consecutive opening-game wins snapped.
UMaine, the defending Colonial Athletic Association champ and Football Championship Subdivision semifinalist, scored touchdowns on all six of its first-half possessions against the undersized Pioneers.
Reserves played the game’s last 20 minutes.
University of Buffalo transfer running back Emmanuel Reed (10 carries, 62 yards) scored on runs of nine and one yards for UMaine and Joe Fitzpatrick added a four-yard TD scamper.
Sacred Heart quarterback Logan Marchi scored on a one-yard run which cut the UMaine lead to 21-7 in the first period.
Eli Terry added a one-yard TD run for Sacred Heart with 7:08 left in the contest.
Ferguson wasted little time establishing a foothold in the game, completing four passes on the first drive, including a 45-yarder to Edwards that set up a back-shoulder fade to Edwards in the corner of the end zone.
On the next possession, Ferguson pinpointed a 42-yarder to Young that set up Reed’s nine-yard run.
Ferguson’s 68-yard slant pass to Blair then paved the way for Fitzpatrick’s four-yard TD run.
A pass interference call and a late hit on the same play on UMaine helped set up Marchi’s TD run.
But UMaine responded with a seven-play, 82-yard drive resulting in Ferguson’s 10-yard hook-up with Young to restore the 21-point cushion.
“Whenever we got momentum, they came back and scored right away. That’s the sign of a great football team,” Nofri said.
Reed’s one-yard run and Blair’s 14-yard TD reception capped the first-half scoring.
“We executed at a very high level in the first half,” said UMaine first-year head coach Nick Charlton. “[Ferguson] was very, very locked in.”
UMaine outgained Sacred Heart 582-207 in total yards.
UMaine preseason All-American linebacker Deshawn Stevens, who led the team with 120 tackles a year ago, sustained an ankle injury in the first half and was carted off.
Charlton said he didn’t know the extent of Stevens’ injury.
The Black Bears’ defense limited the Sacred Heart running game, featuring Jordan Meachum (1,396 rushing yards last season) and NEC Rookie of the Year Julius Chestnut (713 yards), to 103 yards on 33 carries. Sacred Heart averaged 241.1 yards and 5.5 yards per carry a year ago.
“We cranked the film on them and they tipped a lot of things on the field so we knew where the ball was going,” said UMaine junior linebacker Jaron Grayer, whose seven tackles led the team.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage. They did a great job shutting down our running game,” Nofri said.
UMaine allowed just 79.2 rushing yards per game last season, best among 124 FCS schools.
Strong safety Joshua Huffman was involved in six tackles for UMaine, which travels to play Football Bowl Subdivision team Georgia Southern on Saturday.
Chestnut rushed for a team-high 52 yards on nine carries. Marchi completed 12 of 29 passes for 104 yards and Naseim Brantley caught five for 25 yards.