Bob Lucy (left) and Rich Kimball of the Black Bear Sports Network have been calling University of Maine football games together for 22 seasons. Credit: Charlotte Wilder photo

For longtime University of Maine football radio broadcasters Rich Kimball and Bob Lucy, it has been a special season and an immensely enjoyable one.

They call the games on WVOM (103.9 FM) for the Black Bear Sports Network and have worked together in the booth for 22 years.

Since the inception of the program in 1892, UMaine had never reached the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals until this season. It had made three quarterfinal appearances.

The 12th-ranked Black Bears (10-3) take on No. 3 Eastern Washington (11-2) in Saturday’s 2 p.m. semifinal in Cheney, Washington.

So what sets this team apart from the other UMaine playoff teams?

Kimball said it started with the tragic death of freshman defensive back Darius Minor due to a heart condition during workouts in July.

He said head coach Joe Harasymiak’s handling of the tragedy, telling his players it was bigger than football and it was OK to cry and lean on each other, helped forge a strong bond.

“They rallied around Darius. They had each other’s back. That became a mantra for this team,” said Kimball, UMaine’s play-by-play man, who is a Bangor native. “I’ve never seen a team that got along as well as this one. They care about each other and it started with Joe and his coaching staff.”

Lucy, a former Black Bears linebacker (1980-82) who serves as the color analyst, said team members draw strength from each other.

“They also have an unwavering will to win and it comes from that belief they have in each other,” he said. “They are able to overcome adversity over the course of the game and keep playing hard.”

Lucy said the Black Bears play with an undeniable sense of urgency.

“They play every down like it’s fourth-and-one on the goal line on the game-winning drive. They play with a lot of passion and enthusiasm,” the Orono native said.

The broadcast duo said the team’s backbone is its defense, which ranks first in the FCS in rushing defense (68.7 yards per game), second in sacks per game (3.62), sixth in third-down efficiency (27.9 percent) and ninth in total defense (293.5 ypg).

Kimball pointed to UMaine’s defenses in 2006 and 2001 as being among the best he has seen, but the depth of this year’s group stands out.

“You look at the linebacking corps and they have Sterling Sheffield, Deshawn Stevens, Taji Lowe and Jaron Grayer. The line gets great pressure on the quarterback and the secondary is experienced. Manny Patterson is, arguably, the best cover cornerback in the country.”

Lucy compared the defensive unit to the 2006 squad as being among the best in program history. Both had similar numbers.

“This defense has allowed 68.7 rushing yards per game while the ’06 defense allowed 63.9. Each allowed an average of 2.1 yards per carry,” Lucy said.

The quarterback sacks (47 this season, 38 in 2006) also were comparable, but this year’s team has played more games. The 2006 team went 6-5 and didn’t make the playoffs.

“I’ve never seen a more dominating defensive performance than last Friday night at Weber State,” Lucy said. Maine attacked from the opening snap. They were relentless throughout the game.”

He alluded to their four forced turnovers and 13 tackles for a loss, the most in a game since 2007.

“The thing that makes it all work is they all have that same passion and enthusiasm for the relentless pursuit of the football,” said Lucy. “It’s a smothering defense and they tackle really well.”

Lucy said the close-knit bond among team members, and with the coaches, helps them remain relaxed, composed and confident.

“The players have a great connection with the coaching staff. They know the coaches care about them as people, not just as football players, and that goes a long way toward building chemistry and (strong) relationships.”

Kimball said the 2018 team has demonstrated an extra level of toughness, both physically and mentally. He recounted quarterback Chris Ferguson’s 9-yard touchdown run on which he dived into the end zone onto his sore right shoulder as an example.

“They are tough guys. They’re gamers,” said Kimball, who pointed out UMaine has not had an easy road to the semifinals.

“They’ve overcome the toughest schedule in history. This will be their ninth road game. They’ve traveled 22,000 miles.”

Having playmakers in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — is another dynamic that helps the Black Bears stay energized.

Kimball said despite some offensive inconsistency, freshman running back Ramon Jefferson and junior wide receiver Earnest Edwards can score from anywhere.

“They can make plays that swing momentum or get big scores,” said Lucy. “You saw that time and time again in the Elon game (a 27-26 win). The offense was struggling but Earnest Edwards returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.”

Lucy said UMaine is peaking at the right time as it looks to extend a six-game winning streak on Saturday.

Kimball said this has been the most fun he has ever had covering a UMaine team because of its collective demeanor.

“One of the things I like about this team is they are so appreciative (of the media coverage),” said Kimball. “We’ve had more players come up to us and thank us. And the coaching staff has been incredibly accessible.”