“We’ve got to be November-tough.”
There is a distinctive playoff atmosphere in the air today as the state’s two active football teams look to continue their outstanding seasons.
Maine Maritime Academy of Castine has reached the post-season and plays in the New England Football Conference championship game.
Also, the University of Maine strives to continue its drive toward a potential NCAA play-off berth with a crucial Colonial Athletic Association road game against Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, Husson University of Bangor is idle as it awaits word on a possible ECAC bowl berth.
Maine (7-3, 4-2 CAA) at Rhode Island (2-8, 0-6 CAA), noon, Meade Stadium, Kingston, R.I.: The Black Bears go after their sixth consecutive victory with a postseason spot on the line.
On paper, coach Jack Cosgrove’s team should have the upper hand against a Rhode Island squad trying to make the transition to a new coaching staff. However, rain in the forecast could make the Rams’ grass home field a challenge.
“We’ve got to be November-tough,” Cosgrove said of handling the weather conditions.
The Bears look to control play with their formidable ground game. The offensive line has laid the foundation for a quintet of backs to roll up 272.2 rushing yards per game during the winning streak.
The mainstays include quarterback Mike Brusko, fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, tailback Derek Session and tailback/receiver Jhamal Fluellen. The Bears rank third in CAA rushing (194.5 ypg).
The Rams rank last in CAA scoring defense (33.3 points per game) and are ninth in rushing defense (176.2). Linebackers Matt Hansen (90 tackles) and Jeff Ball (58) pace the unit.
The Bears’ defense looks to continue demonstrating the resilience and big-play capabilities that have enabled it to overcome otherwise unspectacular stats. UMaine does lead the league in turnover margin (plus-13) and has made a CAA-high 17 interceptions.
The defensive catalysts include end Jovan Belcher (79 tackles, 6 sacks), linebackers Andrew Downey (74 tackles) and Sean Wasson (69) and cornerback Lionel Nixon Jr. (66).
The Bears confront a URI offense that features the passing talents of QB Derek Cassidy, who has completed 230 of 387 throws (.594) for 2,474 yards with 15 touchdowns and a league-high 14 interceptions. Brandon Johnson-Farrell (52 receptions, 429 yds., 1 TD) and Jimmy Hughes (42-514-2) are the primary receivers.
“Everybody recognizes [Cassidy] as a quarterback who has running skills,” Cosgrove said. “He looks to have a real good understanding of their offense, where the ball’s got to go.”
Rhode Island has had two weeks to prepare for the Bears as it was idle last week on the heels of a 49-0 thumping at the hands of Massachusetts.
Bear tracks: UMaine senior linebacker Sean Wasson of Norwood, Pa., has been cleared to play at URI after violating bail conditions stemming from a previous charge of operating under the influence of alcohol in August, according to UMaine athletic director Blake James.
“I was first made aware of it by Sean,” said James. “He was stopped while walking with a female companion and admitted he had consumed five beers, according to the Orono Police Department report.”
James said Wasson has been required to complete 15 hours of community service and to attend alcohol education classes.
Wasson, UMaine’s third-leading tackler with 69, sat out the team’s first game of the season for the OUI, which is a violation of the UMaine Student-Athlete Code of Conduct.
Plymouth State (9-1) at Maine Maritime Academy (7-3), noon, Ritchie Field, Castine: The Mariners can punch their ticket to the NCAA playoffs with a victory.
Coach Chris McKenney’s team clinched the NEFC Bogan Division crown last weekend with a victory over Fitchburg State, while Plymouth State earned the Boyd Division title.
“The kids are excited,” McKenney said. “They’ve been working hard all year.”
This game brings together two of the most potent rushing attacks in all of Division III.
The Mariners have won six of their last eight games behind an option offense that features fullback Jim Bower. MMA ranks No. 2 in the nation in rushing (383.4 ypg). Bower, a junior, is the third-ranked rusher in Division III while grinding out 1,652 yards (165 ypg) and 24 touchdowns.
PSU has posted eight straight wins and is the No. 4 rushing team in the country, amassing 300 ypg. Jeff Mack ranks eighth in the country while netting 154 ypg on the ground with 18 TDs.
“They pound it up in there and run a little bit of option on the outside,” McKenney said.
The difference in this contest likely will be which defense can slow down the other offense. The Panthers lead the NEFC in scoring defense (10 ppg), rushing defense (105 ypg) and total defense (271 ypg).
The Mariners’ defense has surrendered 27.5 points and 361 yards per outing. Top performers include linebackers Wade Mondoux (106 tackles), Travis Fergola (80) and Joel Chadbourne (75).
PSU’s standouts include linebacker Brian Keenan (45 tackles) and safety Zach Parsons (43, 4 interceptions).
MMA may again be operating without sophomore quarterback Tyler Angell, who is questionable after missing last week’s game with an injury.
Freshman Matt Rende of Augusta had a nice first start, rushing 10 times for 80 yards, including TDs of 6 and 52 yards. He also completed a pass for 32 yards.
”As many kids have done all year, he stepped in and filled the role and did a nice job,” McKenney said. “Part of the network of the team is we’re all in this together.”