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Black Bear football kicks off with a new look team

After last season’s abysmal 2-9 record, the University of Maine Black Bears football team has been eager to get back onto the field and improve on last year under second-year head coach Jordan Stevens, though the team will look very different this year.

Along with losing 25 seniors to graduation, the Black Bears lost many key contributors from last year’s team, with 12 players transferring during this offseason. These players would include starting quarterback Joe Fagnano, who transferred to the University of Connecticut, where former head coach Nick Charlton is the offensive coordinator. Along with him, the team lost former top running back Freddie Brock, who transferred to Georgia State, and tight end and captain Shawn Bowman, who transferred to Rutgers University. To help with the losses, UMaine brought in 12 transfers, with a notable pickup being fifth-year senior defensive lineman Izayah Henderson from Boston College.

As with the previous year, UMaine would kick off the season against an FBS team and face the Florida International University Panthers. Unlike the previous season when they lost 41-0 to the University of New Mexico Lobos, the Black Bears put up a tight fight from start to finish as the defense played phenomenally, holding the Panthers to just 14 points. The offense had a chance to win the game down by two, but fourth-year quarterback Derek Robertson would get sacked on third down, forcing UMaine to punt and letting FIU run out the clock and win 14-12.

In his first game starting since 2021, when he replaced Fagnano after the latter got injured, Robertson would complete 21-43 passes for 213 yards but would not score a touchdown. In his first college game, first-year running back Tristen Kenan carried the ball 24 times for 108 yards and one touchdown. This was the most rushing yards by a freshman since Ramon Jefferson in 2018, and Kenan was recognized with CAA Rookie of the Week. While he played well, Kenan would show his youth as he fumbled the ball twice, once in Panthers territory early in the first quarter and potentially costing UMaine points.

Defensively, UMaine played outstandingly, forcing three fumbles and one interception. One week after Panthers third-year running back Shomari Lawrence ran for 139 yards against Louisiana Tech, the Black Bears would hold him to just 26 yards on the ground.

After playing better than expected against FIU, against second-ranked FCS powerhouse the North Dakota State Bisons defeated the Black Bears 44-7, with their only touchdown being in fourth quarter garbage time. The Bisons had over twice the total yards UMaine had, with 453 compared to 223. 

The Black Bears did not play well offensively, as Robertson struggled throwing 18-29 for just 117 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. UMaine would combine for 100 yards on the ground, thanks to Kenan and fourth-year running back Jon Gay rushing for 55 and 51 yards, respectively.

The defense struggled against a much better team, as fourth-year quarterback Cam Miller would go 14-19 for 159 yards while second-year quarterback Cole Payton lit up the defense all game long with his legs rushing for 105 yards on eight carries for three touchdowns including a score from 61 yards out in the third.

The Black Bears will play their first home game this Friday, Sept. 16, against the University of Rhode Island Rams, with the kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

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