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Maine football wraps up strong first season under new head coach

The University of Maine Black Bears wrapped up another football season this past week. While Maine did not make another heroic playoff run to follow up last year’s loss in the semi-finals to Eastern Washington State, they showed their true grit under first-year head coach Nick Charlton this season. 

One of the biggest standouts of this season was fourth-year wide receiver Earnest Edwards, who hauled in 49 receptions for 1097 yards on the season, along with 11 touchdowns. Edwards became the first player on Maine’s football team to exceed 1000 yards in a single season since 1998.

To nobody’s surprise, the vaunted “Black Hole” was anchored by fourth-year defensive lineman Kayon Whitaker, who racked up nine sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. At the second level of the powerful front seven, fourth-year linebacker Taji Lowe led the entire team in tackles with a total of 98, with 9.5 of those being tackles for a loss of yardage. 

The future of the quarterback position looks bright for the Black Bears in the hands of first-year quarterback Joe Fagnano, who played in eight games this season after taking over for injured third-year starting quarterback Chris Ferguson. In Ferguson’s absence, Fagnano threw for 1835 yards and 17 touchdowns with only three interceptions on the season. Fagnano’s excellence as a passer was coupled with multiple costly fumbles throughout the season, including two that buried the Black Bears in their season finale against New Hampshire, but his overall potential was enough to lead Ferguson to announce his plans to transfer schools for next fall after Fagnano was named the starter moving forward. 

One of the more memorable games for Maine this season was the homecoming game, against the William & Mary Tribe, which drew a massive crowd on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Orono. The Black Bears went into the fourth quarter with a comfortable lead of 31-12, putting up multiple scores in quick succession, including an 80-yard score from Fagnano to Edwards. Despite a late surge in the fourth quarter by William & Mary, the Black Bears held them off for a 34-25 victory, celebrating homecoming in style. 

Arguably the most significant game of this year’s football season was the final home game of the season, as Maine welcomed the University of Rhode Island Rams on Maine’s senior night. The Black Bears trailed 27-13 with just under nine minutes remaining in the game but were able to get a quick drive together, march down the field and score a touchdown to cut the lead down to 27-20. With the defense reenergized by the offensive resurgence, they forced a quick three-and-out for the Rams’ offense, quickly putting the ball back in Fagnano’s hands. 

Fagnano showed poise on many drives throughout the season, and this was no exception; on just five plays, he conducted the offense to over 70 yards, slashing through the Rams’ defense to tie the game up at 27-27. 

Rhode Island answered Maine’s consecutive touchdowns with a field goal to regain the lead 30-27. However, the Rams left too much time on the clock for Fagnano and the Black Bears’ offense. Maine was able to successfully complete another long drive, this time going 81 yards on just five plays, capped off with Fagano throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Edwards to give the Black Bears their first lead of the entire game with only 34 seconds remaining. The lead would hold, and the senior players would celebrate their final home game with a victory they will likely never forget.

The final game of the season had a less than desirable outcome for Maine as they traveled down to Durham for their annual border battle with their renowned rival, the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. New Hampshire got the best of Maine with a final score of 28-10, concluding the Black Bears’ 2019 season with a final record of 6-6. The players fought hard and gave everything they had in their first season following the departure of former head coach Joe Harasymiak, who left the team to become an assistant for the University of Minnesota at the conclusion of last season. The Black Bears have an excellent foundation of young players that will continue to grow as players and as a team.

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