It began with a costly missed extra point and ended with a victory-stealing Hail Mary pass.
The University of Maine football team’s season was the epitome of frustration.
The missed extra point and the Hail Mary pass came in one-point losses to the University of New Hampshire (24-23) and Stony Brook (20-19), who have earned two of the Colonial Athletic Association’s four Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
So, instead of finishing the season at 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the CAA, the Black Bears wound up 4-6 and 3-5 and wondering what might have been. They were tied in the fourth quarter of a loss to Delaware and trailed Football Bowl Subdivision team UMass by six in the fourth and had the ball before losing.
UMaine was the only CAA team to lead FCS No. 1 team James Madison in the second half.
But the Black Bears couldn’t finish games, being outscored 58-13 in the fourth quarter of their losses. They were unable to make plays at key times and they also hurt themselves with penalties. They were the most penalized team in the CAA (86.4 yards per game).
“This season falls on my shoulders,” said second-year head coach Harasymiak. “I am the head coach. I have to coach them better.
“Four-and-six and three-and-five is unacceptable. We’ve got to change it around here,” he said.
Their inability to win “one-on-one situations” like the 35-yard Hail Mary pass from from Joe Carbone to Harrison Jackson on Saturday haunted them, he said.
“That was like a one-on-six. We were in position to make the play but we didn’t. We have win those one-on-one situations,” he added.
The strength of the 2018 Black Bear team will be the defense and at the running back position.
“I’m very confident in our defense,” said sophomore cornerback Manny Patterson, who led the CAA in pass breakups (17; 1.7 per game). “We have a lot of returning starters.”
The Black Bears were fourth among the nation’s 124 FCS teams in third down defense and first in the CAA, allowing opponents to convert on just 27.4 percent of their third downs.
UMaine allowed 335.1 yards per game which was 36th in the country but just seventh-best in the defense-dominated CAA. The Black Bears allowed 23.3 points per game, also seventh in the CAA.
UMaine will lose All-CAA cornerback Najee Goode, safeties DeAndre Scott and Jason Matovu, end Dakota Tarbox and nose tackle Schuyler Huntington. Goode and Scott had injury-marred seasons and were limited.
Matovu and Huntington each had 23 tackles, Goode had 21 and Tarbox finished with 20.
Six of Saturday’s defensive starters were redshirt freshmen or sophomores and true freshman Erick Robertson also saw significant duty in the secondary.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Jaron Grayer (79) had an exceptional first season, making 79 tackles. His 7.9 tackles per game were 11th best in the CAA.
Sophomore end Kayon Whitaker and tackle Charles Mitchell also shone as did Patterson, junior linebacker Sterling Sheffield and redshirt freshman LB Deshawn Stevens.
Whitaker’s 8.5 sacks were 20th in the country and his 1.3 tackles for loss per game were 39th-best. Whitaker had 65 tackles. Sheffield was involved in 64 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Mitchell had 58 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. Patterson had 14 tackles to go with his 17 pass breakups and Stevens (50 tackles) led the team in tackles in each of the last three games.
Sophomore end Alejandro Oregon (22), junior safeties Darrius Hart (42) and Jeff DeVaughn (29) and cornerback Josh Huffman (20) also return as will sophomore LB Taji Lowe (38), junior LB Sinmisola Demuren (5) and Robertson.
The big question mark will be the offensive line where five of Saturday’s six starters will depart.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson had a respectable first season, completing 54.6 percent of his passes (171 for 313 and 2,064 yards). He threw 16 touchdown passes and was intercepted 11 times. But had just one fourth-quarter TD pass and was intercepted four times.
“He’s our guy moving forward. There were a lot of bumps along the way. He’s a young kid who has talent but we’ve got a long way to go with Chris,” said Harasymiak.
“Our defense will take care of business but we’ve got to grow on offense. We’ve got to step it up in the offseason and produce different results next year,” said Ferguson.
Harasymiak should take a long look at talented Isaiah Robinson, who was a true freshman, and give him the opportunity to push Ferguson for the job.
Sophomore running back Josh Mack had a tremendous season and is currently leading the nation in rushing yards (1,335 in 243 carries) and is third in all-purpose yards (161.5 per game).
He caught 30 passes, second-best on the team.
The evolution of North Yarmouth’s hard-running Joe Fitzpatrick (382 yards, 6 yards per carry) gives Harasymiak two quality backs and injury-prone Darian Davis-Ray and Nigel Beckford each have a year left. Elusive scatback Ramon Jefferson is promising.
UMaine graduates two of its top three receivers in Jaleel Reed (team-high 32 catches-425 yards) and Jared Osumah (27-for-373) but there are plenty of pass-catchers returning in Jaquan Blair (23-for-242), dynamic Earnest Edwards (21-for-371) and junior tight end Drew Belcher (17-for-233), who made a nice transition from quarterback. All-CAA receiver-punt returner Micah Wright (13-for-150) played in just five games due to a suspension and a season-ending knee injury but Harasymiak expects him to be ready for August training camp.
Edwards led the CAA in yards per kickoff return (24.5) and was fifth in all-purpose yards per game (108.5). UMaine has to find a way to get him more touches.
Four-year standouts Isaiah Brooks and Jamil Demby, who were the tackles; guards John Reddington and Daniel Burrows and tight end Jason Simonovich will depart leaving redshirt freshman center Chris Mulvey and junior tackle Cody Levy as the only returnees with significant playing time.
Freshman guard Liam Dobson, who saw some limited playing time, and fellow freshman Archie Callahan, who was redshirted, will be two of the players counted upon to fill the void in the offensive line along with redshirt freshman Gunnar Docos and sophomore Sam Cooper.
Placekicker Brandon Briggs was a pleasant surprise after winning the job from freshman Kenny Doak early in the season, converting 8-of-11 field goals and amassing 21 touchbacks. He will be back as will punter Derek Deoul (39.1 yards per punt).
UMaine will have a demanding schedule with seven road games, including FBS opponents Western Kentucky and Central Michigan, and just four home games.
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