Jeffrey DeVaughn picked a perfect time for his first career two-interception game.
It came in Friday night’s 23-18 victory at Weber State, which sent the University of Maine to the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals for the first time in the program’s 126-year history.
UMaine, 10-3 and winner of six in a row, takes on 11-2 Eastern Washington in Cheney, Washington, at 2 p.m. Saturday. Eastern Washington, which plays in the same conference (Big Sky) as Weber State, also won six straight and has averaged 49.2 points per game in that stretch.
Eastern Washington’s winning streak followed a 14-6 loss to Weber State.
The UMaine-EWU winner plays the victor of Friday night’s semifinal between defending champ North Dakota State (13-0) and South Dakota State (10-2).
“It was amazing,” said DeVaughn, a strong safety and co-captain for the Black Bears. “My whole mentality was, I didn’t want to go home. I want to keep playing. I want to go out with a bang.”
The UMaine defense made four interceptions in the second half after holding the Wildcats to a field goal in the first half even though they had great field position.
Weber State’s second, third and fourth drives of the game started at the WSU 35-yard line, the 50 and the UM 49 but all resulted in punts.
“It was a dominating performance,” DeVaughn said.
“Defense wins games, defense wins championships,” he said. “Every time we’re out there, we want to get a stop. We want to make big plays.”
Weber State had averaged 152.3 rushing yards per game but was held to minus-1 yard.
UMaine registered three sacks and put constant pressure on quarterback Jake Constantine, who was chased out of the pocket and got hit often.
“He was running for his life and nobody wants to get hit,” DeVaughn said.
“Early on, we felt our pass rush was going to be an issue for them,” UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said during Monday’s Colonial Athletic Association media conference call.
“They had a talented offensive line, but I was impressed with the way our guys were able to get after the passer. [Defensive end] Kayon Whitaker certainly had one of his best games,” Harasymiak said.
Whitaker made four tackles, including two of UMaine’s 13 tackles for a loss, and he posted had a sack and a quarterback hurry. Linebackers Sterling Sheffield (3 TFLs), Taji Lowe (2) and Deshawn Stevens (2), and true freshman cornerback Katley Joseph (2) also got in on the act.
Linebacker Jaron Grayer and junior cornerback Manny Patterson were the other Black Bears who had interceptions.
UMaine has the best rushing defense among the 124 FCS schools, allowing just 68.7 ypg. It will face an EWU offense that ranks 10th in rushing (266.6 ypg).
UMaine’s defense is second in the country in sacks per game (3.62), third in TFLs (8.5 per game), sixth in third-down efficiency (.279) and ninth in total defense (293.5 ypg).
UMaine’s offense struggled for large parts of the game, although QB Chris Ferguson did throw touchdown passes of nine yards to Jaquan Blair and 67 yards to Earnest Edwards. Running back Ramon Jefferson ran 45 yards for the other TD.
Other than the Edwards and Jefferson scoring plays, UMaine managed just 174 yards on its other 59 plays (2.95 yards per play).
“That’s probably the best defensive unit we’ve played against,” Harasymiak said. “We certainly didn’t play up to our standards on offense, but at the end of the day, we kept grinding and made enough plays to win the game.”
Harasymiak remains confident in the offense and UMaine’s ability to implement a good game plan.
“Playoff football really comes down to one-on-one matchups. We have to win those to get a win,” he said.
Harasymiak said Weber State was the most physical team UMaine has played, but he was pleased with how the team responded in a tough road game.
“We had to travel across the country and play in a really tough environment. The student section was really loud, and they were right on top of us. It was cool,” he said.
This week, the Black Bears will emphasize that the players get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
UMaine is 7-0 against nationally ranked teams this season and is 5-3 on the road.
Eastern Washington, the 2010 national champion, has been to the playoffs five times in the past seven years.
“We’re extremely confident going anywhere and playing anyone,” said Harasymiak, who reported that UMaine did not incur any significant injuries against the Wildcats.