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Black Bears take first loss of the season in defensive struggle against Central Michigan

This past Saturday, Sept. 22, the University of Maine football team traveled to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas in a game decided by two strong defenses, in which the Chippewas won 17-5 and put the Black Bears at a 2-1 record on the season.

Ranked as 13 in the nation as a team, the Black Bears deployed their aggressive defensive front once more, limiting the Chippewas’ starting quarterback Tommy Lazzaro to seven completions on 16 attempts, for only 82 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. Lazzaro also led the Chippewas in rushing, with 44 rushing yards on the night as he was constantly trying to escape Black Bear defenders.

The Black Bears’ offense lost their leader and signal caller Chris Ferguson, who was taken out of the game in the first quarter with an upper body injury after completing three of four attempted passes for 21 yards.

Thrust into the starting role was backup redshirt first year quarterback Isaiah Robinson, who was unable to maintain the level of aerial assault typical of Ferguson through the Black Bears’ first two games of the season. Robinson finished the game with 16 completions on 32 pass attempts and two interceptions to pair with 162 yards passing and zero touchdowns.

In an attempt to alleviate the pressure from his backup quarterback, running back Ramon Jefferson, who was named Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Rookie of the Week this past week, averaged a strong 5.8 yards per carry while rushing for 64 yards on 11 attempts. Jefferson’s efforts, along with strong performances from wide receivers Jaquan Blair (five catches for 57 yards) and Devin Young (five catches for 38 yards) weren’t enough elevate the lack of experience from Robinson, causing many Black Bear offensive drives to stall just outside of the redzone.

Penalties were another big contributor to the low yardage, low scoring contest. The Black Bears had 11 penalties against them for 113 yards, and the Chippewas had eight penalties for 83 yards. Neither team could properly get their offenses going and the limitations weren’t just due to penalties.

The Black Bears’ defense, the bright spot on the otherwise pedestrian performance from the team, showed their might, with multiple defenders racking up key stops to thwart the Chippewas offense. Senior linebacker Sterling Sheffield led his defense by example, leading the Black Bears with 10 tackles, including three tackles for loss, one sack and a fumble recovery. Fellow linebacker, sophomore Deshawn Stevens, also had eight tackles and an interception. Not to let the linebacking core do all the heavy lifting, redshirt defensive lineman Jamehl Wiley had seven tackles, including two tackles for loss on the day. Forcing a total of nine punts on the night from the Chippewas, the Black Bears’ defensive back Richard Carr was able to get into the backfield and successfully blocked one of the punt attempts by the Chippewas, sending the ball flying out of the back of the Chippewas’ endzone for a safety.

Faltering due to the lack of experience at the helm of their offense, the Black Bears offense couldn’t get past the Chippewas’ defense in the red zone, including a failed fourth down attempt on the Chippewas’ goal line.

The Black Bears have this week of practice to allow Ferguson to heal from his injury, and potentially acclimate Robinson to the offensive scheme in the case that Ferguson’s injury is more long term. Next, the Black Bears travel to Connecticut, Saturday, Sept. 29 for a clash against the Yale University Bulldogs.

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