After playing away from Orono four times in the first five Saturdays of the college football season, the University of Maine will stick around for a while.
The Black Bears (4-1) will travel only once in the next five weeks. They have three home games and a bye week.
They complete the first half of their season Saturday against Delaware, another 4-1 team and one of five unbeaten in Colonial Athletic Association action.
On Saturday, the Blue Hens rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat visiting James Madison 29-22 and Maine held off Richmond 28-21 with an end-zone interception in the final minute in Virginia.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a game that had three end-zone interceptions,” said Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove, who saw his quarterback, Marcus Wasilewski, picked off twice on the doorstep. “It was a huge relief that the one we got (came) at such a critical point in the game.”
Senior safety Lamar Fitzgerald came up with the clinching interception after Richmond had moved to the Maine 5. The Black Bears made two other interceptions Saturday, by cornerback Kendall James on a deep pass and by linebacker Christophe Mulumba on a leaping, acrobatic catch.
Mulumba, who also made six tackles and broke up another pass, was named CAA Rookie of the Week for the second time this season.
One reason for all the interceptions was an improved pass rush bolstered by the return of defensive end Michael Cole, who had missed the previous two games with a chest injury.
“He didn’t play a ton of reps,” said Cosgrove, who had Cole split time with Trevor Bates, “but we were sure to have him in there on pass situations. We had three sacks. We had six pressures. We felt the quarterback was throwing on his heels and we got three interceptions. So I think that overall rush and his presence certainly contributed to some of the big plays we made on defense.”
Cosgrove spoke Monday morning on a CAA conference call. The sacks came from red-shirt freshman Pat Ricard, junior Jonathan Louis and Cole, who moved within 31/2 of Mike Denino’s career sack record of 271/2.
After losing three senior tailbacks to injury, the Black Bears leaned on sophomore Nigel Jones to shoulder the bulk of the rushing load Saturday. Jones responded with a 115-yard performance on 23 carries, including a slick 46-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to give Maine a 21-13 lead.
“He made a tremendous cut on his long touchdown run,” Cosgrove said. “It was just a very impressive one-on-one cut with a linebacker. He just beat him and then took off and scored. It was a huge play for us.”
Jones also caught a six-yard touchdown pass on Maine’s first drive and skirted left end for an 18-yard score after Richmond had taken a 13-7 lead. He was named the College Sports Madness CAA Player of the Week.
“Nigel is a tough running back,” Cosgrove said. “He’ll take a hit and keep going.”
SATURDAY’S WIN over a Spiders team ranked 20th in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll and 22nd in The Sports Network poll lifted the Black Bears to a 23rd national ranking in each poll and dropped Richmond out of the Top 25.
Delaware also joined the rankings, at 24th among coaches and 25th in TSN.
THE VICTORY was Maine’s first over a ranked opponent since last October, when the Black Bears upended No. 15 Delaware 26-3 in Newark. In that upset, Cole had five sacks before suffering a season-ending quadriceps injury.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge going up there,” said Delaware’s first-year head coach Dave Brock, who has been to Orono before as a Hofstra assistant coach. “The reason it’s hard to play up at Maine is that Maine’s got a really good football team and I think Maine is really well-coached. Those guys do an unbelievable job every year.”
Brock hired one of “those guys” in February, luring defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter from Orono. Dottin-Carter was a Black Bears captain in 2002 and spent five years as a Cosgrove assistant.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: