Derek Robertson received a vote of confidence from head coach Nick Charlton in the wake of Saturday’s 31-26 football victory over Merrimack College.
Charlton said the University of Maine (1-2) will expand the playbook for the redshirt freshman quarterback for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Football Bowl Subdivision team Northern Illinois in DeKalb.
NIU (1-2) is coming off a 63-10 loss at Michigan.
Robertson was making his first collegiate start, replacing the injured Joe Fagnano, who suffered a high ankle sprain.
The native of Yonkers, New York, who played at Bridgton Academy, completed 11 of 23 passes for 141 yards, including a 51-yard swing pass out of the backfield to Freddie Brock for a third-quarter touchdown. Robertson completed passes to seven different receivers and didn’t turn the ball over. He was sacked once.
“Considering it was his first start, he did a good job. He obviously helped us win the game,” Charlton said. “He played pretty well overall.”
Charlton said despite a few missed throws and a couple of drops by receivers, Robertson ran the operation effectively.
“In terms of his mental capabilities and execution, he didn’t have any mental errors on the day. He was 100 percent in terms of where he was going with the football and what he was doing,” Charlton said.
Charlton said Merrimack made things difficult for his young quarterback because the Warriors were in man-to-man coverage 90 percent of the time, so there weren’t any easy access passes that you can make against a zone.
“It’s nice to get a win but there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Robertson said.
A week earlier, he completed eight of 22 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and was intercepted once, after replacing Fagnano late in the first quarter of a 55-7 loss at James Madison.
Now that Robertson has a full game under his belt, UMaine will be able to add more plays to its offensive scheme.
“The offense needs to be more productive,” Charlton said.
UMaine rushed for 124 yards which is only 11 fewer than it had gained in its first two games combined. Elijah Barnwell netted 78 yards on 17 carries and Brock added 47 yards on 10 attempts.
“Our tight ends have done a really good job (blocking) the last few weeks so we’ve been playing more with them. I was pleased overall with that,” Charlton said.
“We’d like to be 50-50 between running and passing. We are the farthest team north so we have to be able to run the ball. That’s a big part of our identity. And I’d like to see some more explosives (plays) in the running game” he said.
The special teams, specifically senior cornerback Richard Carr, played a huge role in the victory. He blocked two extra points and UMaine returned them for two points each. Kolubah Pewee Jr. returned one and Carr ran back the other.
Carr was named the Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Week and the Stats Perform Football Championship Subdivision Special Teams Player of the Week.
It was just the third time in FCS history two blocked extra points were returned for two points in the same game.
“Those were two unbelievable efforts by Rich. That’s why we won. They were critical. The last one changed the entire dramatic of the game,” Charlton said. “All 11 guys got penetration on the last one.
“Some teams would have taken that play off. We can’t do that in Orono, Maine. Our special teams are very important.”
The second one, which was returned by Carr late in the third period, turned what would have been a two-point UMaine lead — if Merrimack had converted — into a 31-26 advantage.
The dynamic forced Merrimack to go for a touchdown rather than a go-ahead field goal with three minutes left. UMaine’s defense held after Merrimack had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.