The University of Maine football team used its bye week to recover physically from the demands of the season and might return several key players to the lineup today.
They Black Bears will need everybody they can get.
Maine will visit 15th-ranked Massachusetts, a longtime rival that knocked off No. 22 James Madison last Saturday with a fourth-quarter rally.
“We kind of limped back here after (beating) Rhode Island,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “You never know when a bye week is going to work. In this case we feel this one, this year, was probably just what the doctor would’ve ordered for our football team.”
Maine squeaked out a 28-23 win over the Rams on Oct. 23. The Black Bears went into the game missing several players and lost quarterback Warren Smith in the third quarter when he aggravated a hip injury.
Smith said he is healthy and eager to play today.
Receiver Tyrell Jones also expects to play after a knee problem kept him out at Rhode Island. Same for cornerback Dom Cusano, who had been sidelined.
Running back Jared Turcotte also didn’t make the trip to Rhode Island and is questionable against UMass. He has been “up and down” for two weeks, according to Cosgrove.
“A couple of things are bothering him. It’s probably the result of how hard he plays the game,” said Cosgrove.
The game is meaningful for Maine (3-5, 2-3 Colonial Athletic Association) despite the fact the playoffs are out of reach.
“We have a lot of pride in our program and ourselves and we know that UMass is always a (big) game,” said Smith. “UMass is always going to be a street fight. They’re out to get us and we’re out to get them.”
The schools have played for decades, with the Minutemen (5-3, 3-2) holding a 40-15-1 series lead.
“Historically they’ve owned us,” said Cosgrove. “This has been a rival in our conference that for a long time basically took us out to the woodshed. There was a run of years we didn’t score any points, they shut us out. It was bad.”
This year the Minutemen are in line for a playoff berth.
Maine has won the last two meetings and will be trying to contain one of the league’s best offenses.
UMass is averaging a league-high 234.8 passing yards a game, led by quarterback Kyle Havens, and is ranked third in rushing offense at 171.2 yards a game.
“We have to win,” said Maine linebacker Donte Dennis. “It’s more than just a regular game. It’s just like, they don’t want to lose to us, we don’t want to lose to them.”
For a player like Jones, who is a senior, the remaining three games are about more than winning or losing.
“We’re playing for pride, to finish strong,” said Jones. “I’m just looking out for my team right now.
“I just want to play like I know we can play. I want to give them all I got, show them how much I care for them, this program, the coaches.”
Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]