It’s showtime for the University of Maine football team.

If Albany, Monmouth and Syracuse were warm-up acts, eighth-ranked William & Mary is the first of the Colonial Athletic Association heavy hitters.

Maine (1-2) hosts the Tribe (2-1) today in a game that will make clear how far the Black Bears have come since their Sept. 2 opener.

“Now it really matters,” said cornerback Dominic Cusano. “It’s conference play. We didn’t have as good a start as we wanted. But there is urgency now.”

After three games, several issues have come to light. On offense, the most pressing is the team’s lack of playmakers.

Maine was in a commanding position last week against Syracuse before a dropped pass, sack and fumble turned momentum.

Defensive problems arose in the second half and Maine lost, 38-14.

“We’re not getting performances out of people we need to,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “That’s specific individuals and as a team. I voiced the same concern after Monmouth. This week has been better. Now we need to see it on the football field.”

Cosgrove said this week of preparation has included dealing out a significant amount of constructive criticism in order to pull stronger performances out of some key players on both sides of the ball.

“I don’t think we’re casting doubts on their ability,” said Cosgrove. “It’s their performance. The unpleasant part of my job is to tell them ‘You’ve got to play better.’ I have to tell them things they don’t want to hear. I don’t have issues with the preparation. We’ve got to play better.”

Offensively, the team showed significant promise against Syracuse, marching 84 yards on a first-quarter drive to score first. Maine held the lead on three different occasions and was in command of the game until the late second-quarter breakdown.

“These last three games I feel like we’ve been figuring ourselves out,” said quarterback Warren Smith. “I feel very confident in our offense right now. One or two plays go differently at Syracuse and we might be sitting here with a win. If we can put it all together we will be explosive.”

Jared Turcotte compiled 92 all-purpose yards at the Carrier Dome and is now ranked third in the CAA in rushing yards per game with 96.7. His ability to rush against the Orange was encouraging.

“Last year we were using trick plays. Onside kicks. This year we marched the football field,” said Cosgrove.

“Eighty-four yards. 14 plays. That’s a legit drive.

“I really felt like we would continue to do that and we didn’t respond.”

Maine has not played William & Mary since 2007. With conference realignment, it is the first of four former South Division teams on the schedule.

The Tribe will pose serious threats on both sides of the ball.

The team’s leading rusher, Jonathan Grimes (86.3 yards per game) rushed for 1,294 yards last season and is a threat everytime he has the ball.

Quarterback Mike Callahan is coming off a career passing performance last week — 290 yards against Old Dominion, which has a strong pass rush.

“They have a standard of how to play football there. It speaks to the consistency of the program,” said Cosgrove.

Maine’s defense will be charged with stopping the run game without being vulnerable to big passing plays.

“We can’t let them have any big plays,” said linebacker Mark Masterson. “We talked Sunday as a team and concluded we need to be disciplined all week so we will be disciplined in the game. The good part is this is almost a fresh start. It’s the most important part of your schedule. So in some ways it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Agreed, said Cosgrove: “It’s conference play. You do get a clean slate.”

 

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