The University of Maine has 10 players from Pennsylvania on its football roster. Seven of them are from towns or cities within 120 miles of Philadelphia, including junior quarterback Chris Ferguson, who is from Fort Washington, located 18.6 miles from the City of Brotherly Love.
Sophomore free safety Richard Carr is actually from Philadelphia.
The Black Bears will invade the Philadelphia suburb of Villanova at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for a crucial Colonial Athletic Association game with unbeaten Villanova in a battle of nationally ranked teams.
It is the second CAA game for both, with each previously having played Towson University. Towson topped UMaine 45-23 on Sept. 14, but the Wildcats eked out a 52-45 road victory last Saturday.
Villanova (4-0) is ranked eighth in one national poll and 13th in the other. UMaine (2-2) is 12th and 16th, respectively.
“It’s exciting to play in front of family and friends, people you grew up with who used to watch you play [in Pennsylvania],” Ferguson said. “But we’re just focusing on the game.”
The game has added importance for UMaine because a loss would drop the Black Bears to 0-2 in the conference and make the rest of their league games even more pressure-packed. The defending CAA champs and Football Championship Subdivision semifinalists seek a second straight FCS playoff appearance.
“It’s a very big game,” UMaine senior nose tackle Chuck Mitchell said.
Ferguson has thrown five interceptions to go with two touchdown passes the last two games but his 318.8 passing yards per game ranks second in the CAA. However, UMaine has averaged only 105.8 rushing yards, 11th among 12 teams in the league.
“We haven’t found our identity on offense. We’re trying to figure out the balance between running and passing,” Ferguson said.
UMaine did rush for a season-high 152 yards in Saturday’s 35-21 win at Colgate behind Joe Fitzpatrick’s 102 yards on 16 carries.
“We’re having some success in both [passing and running] right now, and this would be a good opportunity to put both together and have a complete game,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson goes up against a Villanova defense that ranks 11th in the CAA against the pass, allowing 252 yards per game. He is fourth in the country with 1,275 passing yards.
UMaine’s defense will be severely tested by quarterback Daniel Smith and running back Justin Covington, both juniors.
Smith is the reigning CAA Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 279 yards and four TDs and rushing seven times for 70 yards and two more TDs against Towson.
Covington leads the FCS in rushing yards (556) and is second in yards per carry (9.1).
“They’re a great football team,” UMaine coach Nick Charlton said. “Covington is a very good running back, and their defense is always tough. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
UMaine’s Earnest Edwards was the FCS and CAA Special Teams Player of the Week after returning two kickoffs for touchdowns against Colgate.
UMaine has five receivers with at least 12 catches in Jaquan Blair (18), Edwards (15), Devin Young (15), Andre Miller (14) and Shawn Bowman (12).
Linebackers Taji Lowe (25 tackles) and Adrian Otero (24), strong safety Josh Huffman (24), and end Kayon Whitaker (20) lead the Black Bears in tackles.
Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said his team has to stop the run and not turn the ball over against UMaine.
Linebackers Forrest Rhyne (31 tackles) and Amin Black (26), cornerback Jaquan Amos (23), and end Malik Fisher (4 sacks) key the Wildcats defense.