ORONO, Maine — Head coach Joe Harasymiak said he was tough on running back Josh Mack last week, insisting that the University of Maine sophomore run more north and south (straight ahead) than sideways looking for a hole).
Mack got the message loud and clear.
He ran for 255 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries as the Black Bears cruised to a 60-12 victory over Bryant University (Rhode Island) on Saturday afternoon at Alfond Stadium.
The Black Bears didn’t need any second-half dramatics to rally past the Bulldogs as they did a year ago (35-31). They took care of business early, building a 43-5 halftime lead.
Mack rushed for 212 first-half yards and all three of his touchdowns and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson threw two first-half TD passes to Earnest Edwards. He threw another to Drew Belcher in the second half.
The 43 first-half points were the most for UMaine since 2003 and the 60 points are the most since the Black Bears beat Delaware 62-28 in 2013.
The Black Bears racked up 536 yards of total offense.
“I was straightforward with him and he responded. He was more aggressive as a runner today,” said Harasymiak. “We emphasized all week that on the outside zone plays, you’ve got to put your foot in the ground and get north. That’s how the best teams in the NFL and at our level run it.
“Josh took a step forward today,” added Harasymiak.
“After the New Hampshire game, I watched a lot of tape. You score going north and south, not east and west,” said Mack, who gained 103 yards on 27 carries in the 24-23 loss to UNH.
“The coaches harped on us bettering ourselves, executing and being disciplined and we did that,” said Mack, who was 47 yards from Lorenzo Bouier’s single game UMaine rushing record of 302 yards, set in 1980 against Northeastern.
“We talked about playing disciplined, fast, violent football and I was pleased that the guys did that today,” said Harasymiak. “I’m obviously very excited about getting our first win.”
Edwards rattled off touchdown runs of 66 and 60 yards in UMaine’s 29-point second quarter.
“(When I turned the corner), there was green grass in front of me,” said Mack, a 6-foot-1, 198-pound native of Rochester, New York. “I trusted my offensive line in front of me. I was patient and the blocks developed.”
The offensive line, composed of tackles Jamil Demby and Cody Levy, guards John Reddington and Isaiah Brooks, center Chris Mulvey and tight end Jason Simonovich, controlled the line of scrimmage as the Black Bears averaged 9.3 yards per rush.
“We wanted to put the offense on our backs. The coaches prepared us very well and we executed,” said senior Demby.
UMaine (1-1) is off next weekend before taking on defending Football Championship Subdivision champion James Madison at Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Sept. 23.
Ferguson completed 8 of 17 passes for 150 yards and three scores and was not intercepted.
Bryant turned the ball over eight times as the Black Bears came away with five interceptions and made three fumble recoveries.
“(Defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman) and his staff always emphasize takeaways. That was huge today,” said Harasymiak.
“Any time you keep giving a team with excellent offensive players the ball back, you are exposing yourselves to serious risks which we paid dearly for today,” said first-year Bryant coach James Perry. “It was a disappointing game for us. We knew Maine was an excellent team and they showed that today. They played very hard. They are extremely well-coached. We played poorly, which compounded the situation.”
UMaine scored on its first two possessions and never looked back.
The Black Bears covered 55 yards on five plays on their first possession with a 33-yard pass from Ferguson to Jared Osumah setting the stage for his 11-yard TD pass to Edwards on a crossing route.
The hosts capitalized after Charles Mitchell’s fumble recovery on a botched reverse set UMaine up at the Bulldogs’ 38-yard line.
Ferguson linked up with an open Julian Dunn on a 31-yard pass then threw a 31-yard scoring strike to Edwards, who juggled the ball before securing it in the end zone and going out of bounds.
Bryant marched to the UMaine 1-yard line but the Black Bears dug in and Bryant had to settle for Gavin Rowley’s 21-yard field goal.
That was as close as the Bulldogs were to get.
Mack burst off the right side for a 66-yard TD run to make it 20-3 but Kenny Doak’s low extra-point kick was blocked and returned by Torrey Dixon for two points.
Only 21 seconds later, defensive end Dakota Tarbox hit Bryant quarterback Price Wilson’s arm just as he threw the ball and it floated into the arms of Darrius Hart, who returned in 35 yards for a touchdown.
UMaine safety Jason Matovu caused a Wilson fumble and recovered it at the B-13 and Mack dashed 13 yards on the next play for another score to make it 34-5.
Doak’s 33-yard field goal and Mack’s 60-yard TD run closed out the half.
Wilson threw a 59-yard TD pass to Jean Constant in the second half before Ferguson tossed a 9-yard TD pass to Drew Belcher, Doak kicked a 32-yard field goal and Sinmisola Demuren returned an interception 20 yards for a TD after Connor Walsh deflected Wilson’s pass.
North Yarmouth’s Joe Fitzpatrick took over for Mack when the game was well in hand and finished with 103 yards on 17 carries. Linebacker Sterling Sheffield was involved in a game-high nine tackles, including a sack, and linebacker Taji Lowe made six tackles. Five different Bears had interceptions.
Isaac McCray had 54 yards on eight carries for Bryant. Vincent Nisivoccia and Matt Sewall each had four catches and backup linebackers Robert Brown and Josh Jefferson combined for 13 tackles.