University of Maine season opener against Delaware at Alfond Stadium on Sept. 2, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine’s football team will play the first of its two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents on Saturday when the Black Bears face Northern Illinois for the first time in DeKalb, Illinois. Game time is 2:30 p.m.

Both teams are 1-2.

UMaine, a Football Championship Subdivision team, is one of the few schools in its division to schedule two games a year against teams in the higher-level division. Most just schedule one.

Football Championship Subdivision schools permit 63 full scholarship players on a team while the Football Bowl Subdivision teams are allowed 85, which often makes those teams more competitive. Still, UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said the team approaches these games the same as any other.

“We’re going out there to win,” Charlton said. “Our guys play up to the competition. We always play competitively against them.”

Even though UMaine is just 3-22 against Football Bowl Subdivision schools, seven of its last 14 losses have been by 15 points or less.

The last time the Black Bears played Football Bowl Subdivision schools was in 2019, when they lost to Georgia Southern 26-18 and to Liberty University (Virginia) 59-44. In 2018, they overcame a 21-0 deficit to upset Western Kentucky 31-28 and lost to Central Michigan 17-5.

The games have a positive financial component for UMaine, as it will receive a $350,000 guarantee for playing Northern Illinois and another $300,000 on Nov. 13 when it visits the University of Massachusetts.

The games also have recruiting benefits for the UMaine players.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” said fifth-year senior free safety Fofie Bazzie, who played for Football Bowl Subdivision school Maryland before transferring to UMaine.

“It gives us a chance to show what we can do,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Derek Robertson, who will be making his second start after replacing the injured Joe Fagnano.

Charlton expects to see continued improvement from Robertson, who has completed 19 of 45 passes for 229 yards over the last seven quarters since Fagnano’s injury.

UMaine beat Merrimack College 31-26 last Saturday and Charlton said the Warriors’ man-to-man coverage was a challenge for Robertson.

He anticipates that Northern Illinois will play more zone coverages which could enable Robertson to make some easier throws.

The Huskies have an exceptional freshman running back in Harrison Waylee, who is averaging 119 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry.

UMaine’s defense has allowed opposing rushers an average of just 3.7 yards per carry.

“We’re going to have to stop the run. They’re very committed to the running game and our strength right now is in the box. We have done a good job up front,” Charlton said. “And their quarterback [Rocky Lombardi] has a lot of experience.”

Lombardi has completed 39 of 70 passes for 415 yards and his favorite receivers are Tyrice Richie (10 catches-105 yards) and Cole Tucker (8-92). Linebackers Lance Deveaux (28 tackles) and Nick Rattin (22) are the top tacklers for NIU, which beat Georgia Tech 22-21 before losing to Wyoming (50-43) and Michigan (63-10).

Devin Young (12-for-83) and Andre Miller (9-110) are UMaine’s leading receivers, Elijah Barnwell (43-for-172) is the rushing leader and Bazzie (31) and linebacker Ray Miller (24) are tops in tackles.

Meanwhile, in Bangor, Husson University’s 2-1 Eagles will host 1-2 Springfield College in a 1 p.m. Homecoming game at the Winkin Sports Complex.

Husson football coach Nat Clark said his Eagles are going to have to control the football to beat a run-happy Springfield team. Springfield’s three quarterbacks have completed just seven passes, but the Pride has averaged 332 rushing yards per game and 5.7 yards per carry behind fullback Tim Callahan’s 267 yards on 49 carries and Isaiah Cashwell-Doe’s 183 yards on just 19 carries.

“They’re a good football team. They’ve played Western New England (24-13 loss) and Union (30-23 loss) and they’re two of the best [Division III] teams in the region,” Clark said.

Lewiston’s Garrett Poussard, who played in his first game since 2019 due to a knee injury and COVID-19, was named the Commonwealth Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Week as he set career-highs in rushing yards (176), rushes (27) and touchdowns (3) in Husson’s 42-14 win over Dean last weekend.

Husson quarterback Nic Visser has completed 71-of-116 passes for 850 yards with Tyler Halls (24-for-296), Aidan Hogan (16-for-133) and Jon Bell (15-for-223) being his top receivers.

Tyler Buzzell (26), Kaleb Caron (18) and Antwan Turner (18) have keyed Husson’s defense while the Pride has been led by Kyle Niehr (31), Jack Duignan (28) and Aiden Lewin (27).

Other Saturday games: Trinity (1-0) at Bowdoin (0-1), 1 p.m.; Bates (0-1) at Middlebury (0-1), 1 p.m.; Colby (0-1) at Amherst (1-0), 1 p.m.