A year ago when the University of Maine football team surged to a 17-13 halftime lead at Syracuse, Jared Turcotte was back in Maine watching the game on television.

At the time, he’d had neither of the two surgeries that kept him off the field all season.

Today he hopes to lead Maine’s running game when the Black Bears (1-1) return to the Carrier Dome to try and knock off the Orange (0-1). Kickoff is 7:15 p.m.

“Going through last year you almost don’t realize how much the game means to you,” said Turcotte. “I’ll never take another day on the football field for granted.”

Last week Turcotte rushed for 144 yards in a victory at Monmouth. He scored three touchdowns, including one on a 51-yard run on fourth-and-1.

Maine had 433 yards of total offense and took a step forward offensively after a rough opener against Albany. Turcotte’s effectiveness was the key.

“We gave the ball to (Turcotte). He’s our bread-and-butter guy. He played very physical, and I like how he played. He’s a tough kid,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove.

“We ran the ball, threw the ball and caught the ball better. But there were pockets of inconsistency, too. We’re not where we need to be.”

Quarterback Warren Smith completed 17 of 26 passes for 194 yards with no interceptions. He used eight receivers including Derek Session, who caught four passes.

But it was the running game, buoyed by Turcotte and rounded out by Session and Pushaun Brown, that hinted of the emergence of an effective offense.

“The TD on fourth-and-1 was all him. He was hit in the backfield and made a play,” said Smith.

“That was really the first time I got to see (Turcotte) really run. It was good to see. (Turcotte) is a tough runner. He came to play.”

Smith made his debut as a starter in the Carrier Dome last year, so he had never seen Turcotte crank out yards in tough situations, as he did last Saturday.

“He really takes a lot of pressure off us quarterbacks,” said Smith. “He makes guys miss or runs them over. He does bring that extra something to the table. Keeping him healthy is key.”

Cosgrove and the players agree that despite the progress, more needs to occur this week.

“There’s still a lot of things, execution-wise, we need to fix,” said Turcotte. “I do think communication was better. It’s one of the easier things to do right.

“We saw some progress but I don’t think nearly enough if we’re going to win conference games.”

The progress also needs to be seen on defense, said Cosgrove, after breakdowns that almost cost dearly at Monmouth.

Maine has practiced all week with loud music blaring through Alfond Stadium, trying to simulate the noise in the Carrier Dome, which seats just shy of 50,000.

A year ago Maine executed two fake punts that led to first downs and also recovered two onside kicks. The Black Bears outgained Syracuse 265-159 by halftime.

“We go into every game like that. You don’t always get a chance to call (special plays). I know Syracuse will be on high alert,” said Cosgrove.

“We need to make progress not only in the game execution but our personality and who we are. Smith has still got his best football in front of him. For us to be successful running and throwing, our QB is a very important piece.”

Win or lose, Turcotte has put football in perspective this week. He and his wife, Allysha, are expecting the birth of a daughter. In fact, Allysha is due on Sunday.

“You can’t practice getting up every two hours in the middle of the night,” he said. “But I’m as ready as you can be. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m really looking forward to it.”

His teammates support him.

“He’s a strong-minded person,” said Smith. “I know he’s going to be just fine. I have a ton of respect for him. I know he’s going to play hard Saturday, but this makes football small.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]