ORONO, Maine — Manny Patterson is always up for a challenge.
Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 180 pounds, the University of Maine’s All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team cornerback almost always finds himself matched up against a taller wide receiver.
Against the 8-3 Black Bears’ in-your-face, man-to-man pass coverage, that means plenty of bumping and hand-to-hand combat. The secondary will be in the spotlight on Saturday when UMaine hosts Jacksonville (Alabama) State in a noon Football Championship Subdivision second-round playoff game at Alfond Stadium.
The Gamecocks (9-3) feature one of the most potent offenses in the FCS.
Patterson and the defensive backs will be facing the likes of 6-4, 205-pound Josh Pearson, who leads the nation with 17 touchdown receptions and has 63 catches for 1,061 yards overall, and 6-7, 210-pound Jamari Hester (55 catches, 739 yards, 9 TDs).
Pearson is one of 25 finalists for the prestigious Walter Payton Award given to the best offensive player in the FCS.
“I love competition like that,” said Patterson, who also was an All-New England choice. “It is another week to showcase my talent against top receivers. When you go against a team like that, it’s all about film study and patience at the line [of scrimmage]. We’re a big man-to-man coverage team.
Patterson said having success will come down to using proper technique and all 11 players doing their jobs.
Patterson ranks first in the FCS with 20 passes defended and 19 pass breakups. Passes defended are pass breakups plus interceptions.
“We put Manny in tough situations all year, and the league showed how much they respected him by making him a first-team choice,” UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said. “He’ll have his work cut out for him, but he’s a very confident player, and we have confidence in him.”
Patterson knows the Gamecocks are pass-happy, 36.4 attempts per game. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper, a Clemson transfer, has completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 3,051 yards and 30 TDs.
The Gamecocks’ 289.5 passing yards per game ranks 11th in the FCS.
“I love it. There will be a lot of opportunities on the field [to make plays],” Patterson said.
Patterson is excited about playing in his first playoff contest.
The Black Bears have the nation’s fourth-best defense, allowing 278.8 yards per game.
“Their front seven is really good, and the defensive line has some guys that can really play. And their linebackers are good. They have one of the best cornerbacks in their league [Patterson]. They do a good job of tackling, and they make it difficult for you to run the ball.”
UMaine is allowing 73.4 rushing yards per game, second best in the FCS.
“They are a really good team and they’re really good up front,” Gamecocks junior defensive end Tre’ Threat said.
UMaine sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson, who left the past two regular-season games early after re-injuring his throwing shoulder, said the extra week off after earning a first-round bye was beneficial.
“It was good to rest it and let it heal more,” Ferguson said. “I’ve got to keep playing and doing what I need to do, but, in certain situations, I’ve got to be careful and smart.”
Fifth-year wide receiver Micah Wright said he and his teammates are excited to be in such a big game.
“I’ve been waiting five years for this,” Wright said. “It feels great to have a home playoff game.”
Wright and the Black Bears are well aware they are facing a quality opponent in JSU.
“There are only 16 teams left [in the playoffs], so there aren’t any bad teams. They have some good players on their team as we do on ours,” Wright said.
“We know if we execute, we’ll have a great shot at winning because we have a strong belief and dedication to each other.”