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Black Bears fall in season opener against UNH

The University of Maine(0-1) football team opened up the 2017 season with a little twist, heading to Durham to take on the No. 16 University of New Hampshire(1-0), a matchup that normally occurs in late November. What did stay the same was the end result, as the Black Bears fell for the eighth consecutive meeting, 24-23.

The Wildcats started the game off carving through the Black Bear defense, running the ball eight times for 56 yards. Third-year quarterback Trevor Knight connected with redshirt second-year wide receiver Nick Lorden for a 12-yard touchdown to put New Hampshire on the board 7-0 with 11:12 left in the quarter.

Maine was able to answer right back in their opening drive. Second-year running back Josh Mack popped off a 33-yard run on the first play from scrimmage into New Hampshire territory, followed by another run for 12 yards. The Black Bears kept chipping away with short to midrange gains, capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass from redshirt second-year quarterback Chris Ferguson to fourth-year wide receiver Jaleel Reed to knot the score at 7-7 with 7:21 left in the first.

The Wildcats struck back later in the quarter. Fourth-year defensive back Jason Matovu intercepted a pass at the New Hampshire 45-yard line, but the play was called dead on a Maine holding penalty. This gave the Wildcats another chance, and they capitalized on a trick play, with third-year wide receiver Neil O’Connor finding second-year receiver Malik Love for a 60-yard touchdown pass to put them up 14-7 with 33 seconds left in the quarter.

Maine would answer back with 8:31 left in the second quarter. The Black Bears chipped away with a drive before settling for a 35-yard field goal from first-year kicker Kenny Doak, making the score 14-10.

With 5:06 left in the half, New Hampshire would receive excellent field position, starting their drive at the Maine 41-yard line, then receiving 10 free yards on a Black Bear holding penalty. The Maine defense would hold the Wildcats to a field goal, running the score to 17-10 with 3:07 left in the half.

Both teams traded off possessions to start the second half, with neither offense able to get anything going. The Black Bears would finally break through after redshirt third-year Darrius Hart intercepted a pass. Ferguson found Reed for a 33-yard touchdown on the very next play, and Doak’s extra point tied the game at 17 with 5:11 to go in the quarter.

The Wildcats would answer back in the fourth, wearing down the Black Bear defense with a 14-play drive covering 75 yards, capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Knight to third-year wide receiver Rory Donovan to put them up 24-17 with 13:41 to go in the game.

Maine would put a long drive together of their own with 13:35 left in the game. In his first game as a tight end, redshirt third-year Drew Belcher hauled in a pass for a 29-yard pickup down to the New Hampshire 22yard line to give the Black Bears an excellent chance to score. A personal foul call put the Black Bears inside the 10, but they struggled to move the ball. Maine would finally put the dagger in when Ferguson found fourth-year tight end Jason Simonovich for a 4-yard touchdown. A missed extra point would help the Wildcats maintain a very slim 24-23 lead.

Maine had one last chance to go ahead, with 2:45 to go in the fourth. The Black Bears moved the ball into New Hampshire territory with ease, but the wheels then fell off for Ferguson, who was sacked at midfield and fumbled, luckily recovered by Maine. On the next play, Ferguson’s pass was intercepted by the Wildcats’ second-year linebacker Quinlen Dean, putting the game on ice.

Ferguson played well in his first collegiate game, going 23-44 for 239 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions (both coming in the fourth quarter), while finding seven different receivers. Mack finished with 103 yards on 27 carries, while adding five catches and 20 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt second-year linebacker Jaron Grayer finished with 10 tackles to lead the team.

The Black Bears will play their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 9 against Bryant University. Kick-off is scheduled for 3:30. New Hampshire will travel to Statesboro, Ga. to play Georgia Southern on Saturday, Sept. 9. Their kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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