After coming hot out of the gate to begin their season, the first quarter of the contest on Saturday, Sept. 9, between the University of Maine (2-0) and Western Kentucky University (0-2) looked bleak for the Black Bears.
Less than 10 minutes into the first quarter of the game, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers had already put on a show, lighting up the scoreboard to put the game at 21-0. The Black Bears rallied, putting up 28 unanswered points over the next two quarters of play. The fourth quarter saw both teams have a scoring drive, but the Black Bears reigned supreme, winning the contest 31-28.
The quick succession of scoring for Western Kentucky came off of a 66-yard touchdown from quarterback Drew Eckels to wide receiver Lucky Johnson only 18 seconds into the game, followed by an interception of Black Bears’ quarterback Chris Ferguson returned 45 yards for a score by defensive back Devon Key. Eckels dialed up another deep throw to Johnson on the ensuing drive for the Hilltoppers, after the Black Bears turned the ball over once again.
The Black Bears found their offensive cohesiveness midway through the second quarter, with freshman running back Ramon Jefferson catching a short pass out of the backfield from Ferguson, breaking a tackle, and racing down the field for a 51-yard score, the first of Jefferson’s collegiate career. After getting the ball back from the Hilltoppers, who proceeded to go three-and-out on their ensuing drive, Ferguson orchestrated a 22 second, 59-yard scoring drive. Moving fluidly through a strong play action, Ferguson found tight end Micah Wright for the 32-yard score, putting the Black Bears back in contention at 21-14 going into the second half.
The Black Bears’ defense, once again making the key difference, scored a 50-yard touchdown to make a statement to begin the second half, evening the score at 21-21. Sterling Sheffield, the leader of the Black Bears’ front seven, overpowered his blocker on a strong edge rush, forcing a strip sack of Eckels, which allowed fellow linebacker Deshawn Stevens to scoop the ball up and rumble in for the score.
Not done winning the turnover battle, the Black Bears’ defense held the line on a fourth-and-1 attempt by the Hilltoppers, giving Ferguson and the offense the ball back on Kentucky’s own 15-yard line. Ferguson only needed one play, finding Wright once again for the score, and after the extra point the Black Bears held the game at 28-21.
After driving down the field to begin the fourth quarter, the Black Bears were forced to kick a field goal, which kicker Kenny Doak drove through the uprights from 37 yards out, putting the Black Bears ahead by 10 points with less than a quarter left to play in the game. On the following drive for the Hilltoppers, Eckels came out gun-slinging similar to the first quarter, hitting running back Garland LaFrance for a 75-yard touchdown with less than seven minutes to play in the game.
Afterwards, the game came grinding to a halt, as neither offense could generate a solid drive down the field to the red zone. The game was all but over after the Hilltoppers sent their special teams unit on with 47 seconds left in the game, hoping to kick a field goal to tie the game and force overtime. Kicker, Ryan Nuss, didn’t get to see if his attempt was going to go through the uprights from 48 yards out, as defensive back Jordan Swann came crashing off the edge and blocked the attempt, sealing the victory for the Black Bears as Ferguson knelt down on two consecutive snaps to run out the clock.
A well deserved break after two tough victories, the Black Bears are off this coming weekend before traveling to Michigan to face off against Central Michigan University on Sept. 22.