NORFOLK, Va. – On a humid night at Dick Price Stadium, it took the Maine offense some time to catch fire in its season opener. But quarterback Marcus Wasilewski finally got the Black Bears going for a 23-6 victory over Norfolk State in the season opener for both teams.
Wasilewski completed 15 of 28 passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and an interception in a game when Maine managed just 377 yards of offense. His night included an 85-yard touchdown to Zedric Joseph and a 33-yard completion to Derrick Johnson that set up another score.
Sean Decloux kicked field goals of 33, 41 yards and 26 yards. Sophomore linebackers Christophe Mulumba’s first career interception set up the 41-yarder.
“I’m pleased with the win,” said Coach Jack Cosgrove, who credited his team’s defensive and special teams. “I’m disappointed with the offense. Credit Norfolk State, because they’re a good defensive team traditionally. At times we played well, but at times we missed on some throws, so it was a good win, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.
All-CAA first-team tight end Justin Perillo did not have a catch. Rickey Stevens and Joseph shared rushing duty, each gaining 46 yards.
“There were some ups and downs; I think I left a lot out there on the field,” said Wasilewski, whose 54 yards on 11 carries led Maine’s ground game. “We’ll take the win, but I’ve got to make improvements from Week 1 to Week 2.”
A 2-yard run by Stevens on third down produced Maine’s first touchdown of the season, capping an eight-play, 63-yard drive. Johnson (eight catches, 82 yards) made the biggest play of the drive, cradling Wasilewski’s pass over the shoulder of cornerback Collin Frazer for a 33-yard gain.
Maine led 13-6 at halftime and added to its lead early in the third.
On a play dubbed “Bingo,” no Spartan came within 10 yards of Joseph, who turned a short pass into an 85-yard touchdown.
“It was a play-action pass,” Joseph said. “We were running the ball a lot, and they were cracking down on the run. Coach called play action; we call it Bingo. It was just a great play call.”
Wasilewski concurred, adding, “I had some pressure on that play and for a split second, I saw Z wide open and laid it up for him.”
The Spartans used two quarterbacks, each of whom had never taken a snap. Norfolk started Tyler Clark, an Old Dominion transfer, but finished with Bowling Green transfer Malik Stokes.
Stokes, who left for a short time because of an injury in the second half, completed 10 of 29 passes for 104 yards and led the Spartans to their only touchdown, a 34-yard pass to Joseph Hawkins with 5:57 remaining before halftime.
Maine junior defensive back Cabrinni Goncalves finished with career highs in tackles (13) and sacks (two). Defensive end Michael Cole also had a sack, leaving him 5½ away from the school career record.
“Except for one drive, I thought we played real solid defensively,” Cosgrove said. “We created some havoc.”
Maine squandered opportunities to break the game open in the a first half but led 13-0 before the Spartans produced their touchdown. The Black Bears started possessions on Norfolk State’s 19 and 28, only to come away empty-handed.
Stevens fumbled on Maine’s first play from scrimmage to end one of those chances. After the Spartans were penalized for running into the punter, the Black Bears started their sixth offensive series on the NSU 28, only to lose five yards because of a holding penalty and three incompletions.
“Right away we fumbled the ball, first game of the season, inside the red zone,” lamented Cosgrove. “We were sloppy offensively execution-wise. We’re usually a better ball security team than that. We put it on the ground early; we threw an interception later on. We have a lot of work to do to improve.”