PORTLAND, Maine — Transfer graduate student Max Staver gained an early advantage in the battle for the University of Maine’s starting quarterback job on Saturday afternoon. He tossed two touchdown passes, including a 27-yard strike to Marquise Adams, during the 13th annual Jeff Cole Memorial Scrimmage at Fitzpatrick Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Approximately 200 fans braved the intermittent rain to take in the event.
UMaine hasn’t played here since 2005, but will host Delaware at Fitzpatrick Stadium in November.
Junior Drew Belcher, who redshirted last year after completing 155 of 272 passes for 1,468 yards in his first two seasons, and redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson, each threw one touchdown pass.
“I thought I threw the ball pretty well,” said the strong-armed 6-foot-5 Staver, who transferred to UMaine from Houston Baptist after starting his college career with a redshirt year at the University of Florida. “There was one pass I regret and I decision I regret but I thought I took advantage of my reps.”
His first TD pass was a 10-yarder to Jared Osumah, who made a nice twisting reception on a fade route in the corner of the end zone.
“(Osumah) bailed me out on that one. It was a slippery ball (out of my hands) and he did a good job,” said Staver, a native of Brentwood, Tennessee.
Staver said he looked forward to every scrimmage, saying “that is when I play my best.” He said there is still plenty of work to do.
“I want to learn the offense. I want to be a master of the offense,” said Staver. “I want to be able to make faster decisions and I want to increase my foot speed.”
Belcher threw his TD pass to tight end Jason Simonovich on the last play of the scrimmage. He floated a perfectly-placed 14-yard pass to Simonovich near the end zone flag.
“I would have liked to have been more consistent,” said Belcher. “I would have liked to have moved the chains a little better. It was a sluggish start. But it was good ending.”
Belcher was UMaine’s No. 2 rusher in his first two seasons, rushing for 351 and 312 yards, respectively.
He admitted that last season, during which he did not play, was tough.
“It was the first time I didn’t play football since my freshman year in high school,” said Belcher, who used the time to learn offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s offense and “work on (improving) myself.”
Senior Dan Collins won the job last fall and played every snap en route to earning All-Colonial Athletic Association third-team honors.
“It definitely put things into perspective for me,” said the 6-3 native of Reading, Massachusetts. “You can’t waste any time. You’ve got to get ready to go.”
He said consistency will dictate who wins the job in August.
“You can’t have some really good days and some really bad days,” said Belcher. “You have to have good days all the time. Consistency is huge.”
He added that Coen’s offense is ideal for quarterbacks.
“I like the design of the pass plays and the reads. It’s a very quarterback-friendly offense,” said Belcher.
Ferguson, a 6-4 native of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, said things went, “good, but there is a lot to stuff to improve on. We’ve got to watch some film. You’ve got that whole summer period to do that before camp. It’s nice that we have that time.”
He said the redshirt year has enabled him to learn the offense.
“Everything is making more sense in my head. This summer will be big to keep watching film and connect everything,” said Ferguson.
He said one of the keys for him will be to, “relax when I’m out there and figure out what works for me … I’m going to quicken my release up and work on my footwork a little bit.”
Ferguson threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jaquan Blair, who made an exceptional play maintaining concentration and snaring the ball off the hands of a defensive back.
“Jaquan made a good play on that. He helped me out,” grinned Ferguson.
Senior running back Nigel Beckford was the workhorse and exhibited the talent that led him to lead the team in rushing in back-to-back seasons before getting just 45 carries a year ago due to injury and the emergence of freshman Josh Mack.
He used his quick feet and moves to evade tacklers and he also put his head down and ground out some tough yards.
Mack didn’t play because he was suspended for the game by head coach Joe Harasymiak for a violation of team rules.
Mack was the team’s leading rusher last fall (140 carries, 712 yards). Second-leading rusher Zaire Williams left school and No. 3 rusher Darian Davis-Ray was injured and didn’t play.
North Yarmouth’s Joe Fitzpatrick had a bunch of carries early before taking a shot in the head which sidelined him due to concussion protocol.
The defense won the scrimmage named after Cole, a UMaine assistant coach who died of cancer in 2004, by a score of 50-49.
The offense received six points for a touchdown, three for run of over 15 yards, three for a pass reception of over 25 yards and one for a first down. The defense earned six points for a turnover, three for a tackle for a loss and one of they forced the offense to punt or try a field goal.
“Max and Nigel played well and there were also a lot of tackles for losses. It was pretty well-balanced,” said Harasymiak, who also singled out freshman linebacker Jaron Grayer for his performance.
“He had an impressive sack,” said Harasymiak.
Harasymiak said his team had a great spring and he praised the fans for turning out.
“The tone was set for November,” said Harasymiak.
Senior defensive back Najee Goode sustained a leg injury late in the scrimmage which was a concern for Harasymiak.
“I hope he’s OK. (A long-term injury) would be bad,” said Harasymiak.
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Charles Mitchell couldn’t play due to injury but the tireless work he has put in over the year earned him a special surprise.
After the scrimmage, with the team congregated in the middle of the field, Harasymiak handed Mitchell a piece of paper. The note informed him that he had been bumped up from a partial scholarship to a full scholarship.
“I’m speechless,” said Mitchell with a wide smile. “I want to thank my coaches, my teammates and my academic advisors.”