The University of Maine Black Bears football team played host to Villanova University Wildcats on Oct. 6 in a close contest ultimately decided by the leg of Black Bear kicker Kenny Doak. Doak, a second-year student at UMaine, kicked a game–winning 52–yard field goal at the end of regulation to make the final score 13-10, as UMaine upset Villanova. Doak’s game winner also matched the longest field goal ever kicked by a Black Bear, tying 1975 kicker Jack Leggett.
The victory put the Black Bears back on track following a two game losing skid after an injury to starting quarterback Chris Ferguson, who was still recovering from his injury and didn’t play in this contest. Current starting quarterback Isaiah Robinson was unable to push the offense down the field through the air, completing 16 of 30 attempted passes for 146 yards and two interceptions.
With a division–leading run defense, strong pass rush, effective running game, and clutch special teams, the Black Bears proved they can win games through mental discipline and a well–rounded roster. The Black Bears’ “Black Hole” defense had yet to allow a 100-plus yard rushing game on the season, and maintained that streak as they held the Wildcats to 88 yards rushing on the day.
The Black Bears’ linebacking core has proved to be among the finest in the country, as linebackers Deshawn Stevens and Sterling Sheffield throttled the defense’s tempo throughout the game. Stevens had the finest night of his collegiate career thus far, racking up a team leading eight tackles, including two and a half tackles for loss. Stevens also tallied two sacks on the evening. Sheffield, per his usual dominance, finished the game with seven tackles, a forced fumble and one sack. Stevens was named CAA Defensive Player of the Week as a result of his dominant performance.
The relentless pressure from the Black Bears’ defense, led by Sheffield and Stevens, swarmed Wildcats’ quarterback Jack Schetelich throughout the day. While Schetelich was only sacked four times on the day, he was consistently running out of the pocket while being pursued by Black Bear defenders. Schetelich finished the day by completing just 12 of 25 attempted passes for a measly 93 yards and two interceptions.
Following a first quarter that saw drives from both teams resulting in field goals, the Black Bears’ defense locked down the Wildcats’ offense. On a second quarter drive, following a 17-yard rush by Wildcats’ wide receiver Jarrett McClenton, Schetelich dropped back to pass and was taken down for an 11-yard loss by defensive lineman Charles Mitchell, who was unblocked on the play.
On the next snap, now looking at second-and-21 to go for the first down, Schetelich dropped back and threw the ball towards the back left corner of the endzone, only to have Black Bears’ third-year cornerback Manny Patterson track the ball through the air and intercept the pass. The interception was the first of Patterson’s collegiate career, but only the first of two for the Black Bears on the day.
Following the turnover, the Black Bears’ offense stalled and turned the ball back over to the Wildcats, which led to both teams exchanging interceptions on consecutive drives. First-year cornerback Richard Carr read the eyes of Schetelich as he rolled out of the pocket on a play action pass, and stepped in front of McClenton for the easy interception. Robinson threw an interception of his own on the following drive, and the Wildcats attempted to march down the field before time expired in the second quarter. After driving down to Maine’s 18-yard line, Schetelich was taken down for an 11-yard loss by Sheffield, stalling the Wildcats’ offense and forcing them to kick a 46-yard field goal as time expired, which came up short.
Opening up the second half, Robinson orchestrated a 73-yard, 13 play drive that resulted in third-year running back Joe Fitzpatrick punching the ball into the endzone on a 2-yard rush up the middle to put the Black Bears up 10-3. A fumble by the Black Bears in their own territory allowed Schetelich and the Wildcats’ offense to set up on Maine’s 16-yard line, leading to a four play scoring drive to tie the game at 10-10.
Neither offense was able to muster an extended drive for the duration of the remaining two quarters, until Robinson drove the Black Bears down the field with under a minute left to play. With only eight seconds left on the clock in regulation, Black Bears’ head coach Joe Harasymiak sent out Doak and the kicking team for the 52-yarder, which sailed through the uprights as time expired, ending the Black Bears’ losing streak.
Following their game-ending field goal in their contest against the Wildcats, the Black Bears travelled to Kingston, Rhode Island to take on the University of Rhode Island Rams in another close contest. Doak, with ice in his veins from his game winner from last week, showed his clutch abilities for the Black Bears once again, kicking a game winner as time expired as the Black Bears edged out the Rams 38-36.
The Black Bears, now 4-2 on the season and 3-0 within their division, finally had their signal caller back at the helm of the offense. Now recovered from his upper body injury that had sidelined him for the past few weeks, Black Bears’ quarterback Chris Ferguson returned to the field to throw for a career night, throwing for 278 yards on 30 completions of 48 attempts for two touchdowns and an interception. Ferguson connected with fourth-year wide receiver Micah Wright ten times for 125 yards and a touchdown, making Wright his favorite target on the night.
UMaine’s ground attack picked up where it had previously left off when paired with Ferguson’s aerial assault, grinding out 128 yards rushing anchored by first year running back Daejuan Sanders, who rushed ten times for 57 yards. Fellow running backs Joe Fitzpatrick and Earnest Edwards also combined for 15 attempts for 69 yards and one touchdown, punched in by Fitzpatrick. Ferguson, on a brave nine yard scamper, dove into the endzone for his own rushing touchdown.
The Black Bears’ “Black Hole” defense once again held their opponent to under 100 rushing yards, limiting the Rams to 99 yards on the ground while also tallying four sacks and three turnovers. Black Bears’ linebacker Deshawn Stevens, the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Week, led the team with 12 total tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Fellow linebacker Sterling Sheffield extended his streak of games with at least one sack to six games. The Black Bears defense is currently ranked as the number one rushing defense in the conference, and Sheffield leads the conference in sacks and tackles for loss while being tied for first in forced fumbles. Cornerback Manny Patterson also leads the conference in passes broken up, leaving the Black Bears with one of the most well rounded units in the conference.
Rams’ quarterback Vito Priore had a rough afternoon against the Black Hole defense, completing only 19 of 40 passing attempts for 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Priore’s favorite target on the evening, wide receiver Aaron Parker, finished the evening with nine receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
The Black Bears low point on the evening wasn’t a weakness on offense, defense or special teams, but a lack of mental discipline as the team was penalized an incredible 16 times for 197 yards on the night, keeping the Rams in contention until Doak’s final kick sailed through the uprights as time expired. The Rams were able to maintain a lead for a majority of the game, as UMaine kept dismantling its own drives with untimely penalties while also assisting the Rams with free penalty yardage that led to multiple touchdowns. Ferguson, through a calculated aerial attack kept on the field by multiple Rams’ turnovers thanks to the “Black Hole” defense, brought the Black Bears back into the contest after being down 30-14 early in the second half.
Following a touchback on a kickoff from the Rams, Ferguson marched the Black Bears down the field, aided by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty by the Rams, and set up Doak for a 39-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game. Doak, now riding on two game-winning field goals in just as many weeks, looks to continue to be Maine’s stalwart at kicker for the next two seasons.
The Black Bears will next take on the College of William and Mary on Oct. 20 in Williamsburg Virginia, before hosting the University of Albany for the University of Maine’s homecoming weekend on Oct. 27.