The University of Maine football team reached the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the first time in program history a year ago.
The 14 seniors who will play their last home game Saturday against the University of Rhode Island have the opportunity to create another impressive achievement this season.
With victories over Rhode Island and the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire, on Nov. 23, the Black Bears could evolve from a 2-5 team that lost its first three Colonial Athletic Association games into an FCS playoff qualifier.
“I don’t know if anyone has come back from 0-3 in the conference [to win five straight and make the playoffs],” senior wide receiver Earnest Edwards said.
Like the other seniors, Edwards said the time spent at at UMaine has gone quickly.
“I still remember my freshman year when I broke my hand and missed the [season-opening] Connecticut game,” Edwards said. “The first time I touched the ball [two weeks later] against [James Madison], I scored. I’ll shed some tears on Saturday.”
The pre-game ceremony to honor the seniors may not be the only time Edwards gets emotional this weekend.
Edwards is 90 receiving yards from becoming the school’s career leader in receiving yards. He has 2,523 yards and is chasing Sergio Hebra’s 2,612.
“I didn’t envision this. I never thought it was going to happen. [If it does], I might shed another tear after everything I’ve been through,” Edwards said.
Since UMaine’s slow start, the players knew the only way they could maintain any playoff hopes was to win out.
“We never lost faith, even when we were 2-5. We knew we had to take it one game at a time and execute at the right time. We knew if we were all clicking, we would be a hard team to beat,” senior wide receiver Jaquan Blair said. “Right now, we’re on that path like we were last year when we had that [six-game] winning streak. If we get in the playoffs, anything can happen.”
Senior defensive end Kayon Whitaker, one of four UMaine captains, said with each win the competitive instincts have elevated.
“We want to attack that week that much more,” he said.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said his seniors are a special group.
“They have played a lot of football for us,” Charlton said. “They are very, very good players and they are great people. They have been great ambassadors for the University of Maine and they are trying to change the culture. I’m proud of what they’ve done and they’ve got to keep digging.
We’re still in the middle of this so I can’t reflect on it too much but they have changed this program.”
Freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano said he looks up to the seniors.
“They have been through [a lot]. They know what it takes to win,” he said.
Edwards, Blair and running backs Joe Fitzpatrick and Buffalo transfer Emmanuel Reed are the senior regulars on offense with Whitaker, nose tackle Charles Mitchell, tackle Alejandro Oregon, linebacker Taji Lowe and safety Josh Huffman senior starters on defense. Punter Derek Deoul is also a senior.
Preseason All-American cornerback Manny Patterson had his career ended prematurely by a knee injury.