ORONO, Maine — Jacksonville State senior nose tackle Randy Robinson was impressed with University of Maine running back Ramon Jefferson. The redshirt freshman carried the ball 26 times for a career-high 186 yards in the Black Bears’ 55-27 win over Jacksonville State in their Football Championship Subdivision second-round playoff game at Morse Field Saturday afternoon.
“He ran the ball like he wanted to play for a championship,” Robinson said. “He ran hard. He had an extremely good game.”
UMaine rushed for 268 yards on 45 attempts against a Gamecocks defense that ranked 17th among 124 FCS schools in rushing defense (117.4).
Junior Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth contributed 50 yards on seven carries for UMaine, which averaged six yards per carry. Jefferson netted 7.2 against JSU, which had allowed 3.62 yards per carry.
“The coaches just told me to get vertical and get what I could get,” said the soft-spoken Jefferson, who scored two touchdowns.
Jefferson not only ran for over 100 yards for the third time in four games, but many of his runs were critical. Seven of his carries picked up first downs and 12 of his carries gained at least seven yards, including a 42-yarder, a 30-yarder and a 24-yarder.
He turned potential two- or three-yard gains into longer pickups with his leg drive, balance and intelligent cuts. He read his blocks smartly and found the open real estate.
His 42-yard run may have been one of the most important plays in the game.
Jacksonville State scored touchdowns 3 minutes, 32 seconds apart to slice a 21-0 deficit to 21-14 early in the second period.
UMaine started the ensuing drive on its 27-yard line and, after Chris Ferguson completed an 11-yard pass to Jaquan Blair, Jefferson bolted 42 yards to the Gamecocks’ 20.
“I saw the blocking, I saw the grass and I hit the hole,” Jefferson said.
Ferguson threw a 20-yard TD pass to Micah Wright on the next play.
On the next JSU possession, Sterling Sheffield recovered a fumble at the 15-yard line. Two plays later, Jefferson lugged the ball to the 1 to set up Earnest Edwards’ 1-yard run to make it 35-14.
Jefferson finished off UMaine’s 42-point first half with a 24-yard TD run.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound native of the Bronx, New York, capped his memorable day by adding a 1-yard TD run with 1:57 remaining. It was his fifth carry on the drive for 49 yards.
“Ramon was huge,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak. “We know we talk about Ramon being a home run hitter all the time. He’s just so dynamic. On a lot of those runs today, he didn’t have a lot of space to operate in.”
Jefferson and Harasymiak credited the offensive line for opening good holes.
The interior offensive line consisted of tackles Cody Levy and Gunnar Docos, guards Michael Gerace, Migel Garcia and Liam Dobson and center Chris Mulvey.
“They had 268 rushing yards and we had 87 [on 32 carries] and that was the difference,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “They were able to run the ball. We had wanted to run it more but we fell behind by so much, we had to throw on every down.”
UMaine’s defense was second in the FCS against the run, allowing only 73.4 yards per game.
Ferguson said it was important to establish the running game to help open up the passing game.
“It makes things easy, honestly,” Ferguson said. “[Jefferson] getting down the field, breaking off big runs, getting first downs, that’s what an offense needs and that’s our identity, our balance.”
Jefferson has racked up 884 yards on 156 carries (5.7 ypc) and has netted 88.4 yards per game, third best among freshman running backs in the FCS.
When UMaine visits Weber State next weekend in the FCS quarterfinals, Jefferson will square off with the top freshman rusher in the country. Weber State’s Josh Davis is averaging 128.8 yards per game.