One of the most significant Saturdays of the college football season in Maine is on tap when the University of Maine visits defending Football Championship Subdivision champion and top-ranked James Madison University and Husson University of Bangor travels to play Western New England in a rematch of their 2016 NCAA Division III playoff game.
The Black Bears, who are coming off a bye week, will be without game-changing All-Colonial Athletic Association wide receiver Micah Wright. He rejoined the team Wednesday after a suspension but did not travel with the team, according to UMaine athletics spokesman Tyson McHatten.
“Obviously, when you play the No. 1 team in the country on the road, you’ve going to have to execute at a high level,” said UMaine offensive coordinator Liam Coen. “We have to continue to not turn the ball over and we have to score touchdowns when we get into the red zone. We need to come away with points when we get into the red zone.”
UMaine Black Bears (1-1, 0-1 CAA) at James Madison (3-0, 0-0 CAA), Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1:35 p.m.: Mike Houston’s Dukes have the nation’s longest current winning streak, 15 games. These are the top two scoring offenses in the CAA as JMU is averaging 53.7 points per game while UMaine is scoring 41.5 ppg. James Madison and UMaine are also 1-2 in rushing offense, averaging 334.7 and 247 yards per game, respectively.
The Dukes are without leading rusher Cardon Johnson (37 carries, 347 yards), who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the 75-14 win over Norfolk State last Saturday.
That leaves Marcus Marshall (31-183) and Trai Sharp (19-168) as the primary ballcarriers. Quarterback Bryan Schor, the 2016 CAA Offensive Player of the Year, has completed 54 of 73 passes (74 percent) for eight touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times.
UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak considers Schor to be the “most accurate passer” he has ever seen at this level. “We have to make sure we create third down distances that are uncomfortable for them,” said Harasymiak. He also said UMaine must tackle well, especially in the open field, and reduce its penalties. UMaine has been called for 21 penalties in its two games and Harasymiak said that is a recipe for disaster against JMU. The tackling will be important because JMU does an excellent job isolating players in one-on-one situations with defenders.
David Eldridge (12 catches, 150 yards) and John Miller (10-126) have been Schor’s favorite targets.
Josh Mack is UMaine’s leading rusher (40-358) and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson has completed 31 of 61 passes for 389 yards and six TDs with two interceptions. He is going up against a JMU secondary that already has five interceptions. Jared Osumah has been UMaine’s top receiver (8-114).
Linebackers Jaron Grayer and Sterling Sheffield lead UMaine in tackles with 16 each while linebacker Kyre Hawkins (21) and cornerback Jimmy Moreland (15) have paced JMU.
Husson Eagles (2-0) at Western New England Golden Bears (1-2), Springfield, Massachusetts, 1 p.m.: Western New England beat Husson 44-27 in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last November and Husson head coach Gabby Price and his players are expecting a better performance on Saturday. He said it isn’t a matter of revenge, it’s more about erasing a forgettable performance. “We didn’t play well,” said Price whose team fumbled four times, losing two, and threw two interceptions.
Husson and WNE will be in the same league, the Commonwealth Coast Conference, beginning in 2019.
“We have to be able to rush the ball and we have to stop them from rushing it,” said Price. “Their offensive line is back and they have a very good quarterback (senior Anthony Service). They’ve played a tough schedule so far.”
WNE has lost to Springfield and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and beaten Westfield State.
Husson is paced by career rushing leader John Smith (58 carries, 303 yards). Cory Brandon has completed 18 of 36 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown. Kyrie Calli and Robenson Saintard each have five catches. The defensive line of Luke Washburn (16 tackles), Austin Odd (9), Tarik Smith (9) and Frank Curran (8) has been outstanding, according to Price, as has linebacker Elvin Suazo Jr. (15).
Service (42-for-71 passing, 643 yds., 7 TDs) also is WNE’s leading rusher (30 carries, 120 yds.). Peter Hoff has gained 119 yards on 24 carries and Mark Dietrich has 16 catches for 196 yards. Sam Olsson (30 tackles) and Kurtis Jolicoeur (28, 6.5 tackles for loss) anchor the defense.
Merchant Marine Academy Mariners (1-1) at Maine Maritime Academy Mariners (1-1), noon, Ritchie Field, Castine: MMA quarterback Corey Creeger was named the NEWMAC Offensive Player of the Week after setting a school record for total offense in a game (369 yards) in the Mariners’ 34-25 loss to archrival Massachusetts Maritime. He has 225 rushing yards and 223 passing yards in two games and will be matched up against USMMA quarterback Brice Moore, who has thrown for 335 yards and rushed for 187 more on 36 carries.
Merchant Marine averages 511.5 yards of total offense while MMA’s defense has allowed 446 ypg. MMA has netted 235 rushing yards per game. MMA’s Cody O’Brien (16) and USMMA’s Brooks Cannell (20) lead their teams in tackles.
Other games, 1 p.m.: Middlebury (1-0) at Bowdoin (0-1), Williams (1-0) at Colby (0-1), Trinity (1-0) at Bates (0-1)