The crisp fall air will be filled with flying footballs on Saturday when the Colonial Athletic Association’s two top passing attacks air it out in Orono.
It’s “Senior Day” as the University of Maine football team entertains the University of Rhode Island.
UMaine is averaging a league-best 315.9 passing yards per game, while the Rams have rung up 312.6 yards on opponents.
Rhode Island Rams (2-8) vs. Maine Black Bears (5-5), noon Saturday, Morse Field at Alfond Stadium, Orono: The defending CAA champion Black Bears (3-3 CAA) are gunning for their fourth straight victory and 13th in a row against the Rams (0-6 CAA).
UMaine must win to keep its Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes alive and cannot afford to look past the high-powered Rams. URI lost its first four CAA games by a combined 22 points but has since been thumped by Elon (38-13) and William & Mary (55-19).
URI head coach Jim Fleming said the lopsided scores in recent weeks have been the result of turnovers. The Rams have turned the ball over nine times in the past two CAA games after committing seven turnovers in the previous four.
Defensive end and captain Kayon Whitaker said UMaine will have its hands full with the Rams.
“We have a rivalry with them. It will be emotional,” Whitaker said. “There will be a lot of trash talking. There’s a lot of respect [between the two teams].”
The Black Bears remember last year’s tussle at URI when the Rams took a 36-35 lead with 51 seconds left before Chris Ferguson engineered a drive capped by Kenny Doak’s game-winning, 39-yard field goal as time expired.
Freshman Joe Fagnano has stepped in for the injured Ferguson and completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,436 yards and 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
No CAA team has given up more points (34.7) and yards per game (452.6) than URI, but UMaine (205.9) and URI (215) rank second and third, respectively, in pass defense.
URI has the league’s worst run defense (237.6 ypg).
Junior QB Vito Priore leads the CAA in passing yards (2,907), and wide receiver Aaron Parker tops the league in catches (71) and receiving yards (1,045). Isaiah Coulter ranks third in catches (60) and fourth in receiving yards (953).
Zoe Bryant is the league’s sixth-leading rusher (116 carries, 483 yards).
For UMaine, Jaquan Blair ranks fifth in the CAA in receptions with 57 for 748 yards, and Earnest Edwards is third in receiving yards (979 on 40 catches).
North Yarmouth’s Joe Fitzpatrick is UMaine’s top ground gainer (107 carries, 504 yds.).
UMaine’s defense is led by linebackers Taji Lowe (74 tackles, 7 tackles for loss) and Adrian Otero (69 tackles, 3 sacks), safety Josh Huffman (52), and Whitaker (49, 15 TFL, 8 sacks).
URI’s defense features linebacker Branyan Javier-Castillo (97 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2 interceptions), cornerback Rashod Dickerson (63, 2 INTs), safety Momodou Mbye (61, 5 INTs) and safety Brian Campbell (60).
UMaine’s past three “Senior Day” games have been nail-biters, including last year’s 27-26 win over Elon.