Late in the third quarter of what would become a 28-21 Maine victory over Richmond in Virginia, Black Bears quarterback Marcus Wasilewski threw a pass that was intercepted in the end zone.
It marked the second time that late September afternoon the Spiders had picked off Wasilewski on the doorstep of a Maine touchdown.
Evidently, Wasilewski learned from his mistakes. In five succeeding games – all victories – he has not been intercepted in the end zone. He hasn’t been intercepted anywhere on the field.
Wasilewski has thrown 144 passes since that second Richmond pick and not one has fallen into the hands of a defender. Maine receivers, over that span, have caught 102 passes including 12 for touchdowns.
Nor has Maine given up the ball on the ground. The Black Bears have fumbled three times over those same 21 quarters but recovered each of them. The only turnover, if it can even be classified as such, was a successful onside kick for William & Mary that took a crazy hop and deflected off the outstretched fingers of a leaping Justin Perillo.
Over the same time frame, Maine has recovered three opposing fumbles and intercepted five passes.
“Turnovers win football games,” said Coach Jack Cosgrove, whose Black Bears are the first in school history to open a season 9-1 and on Monday moved up to No. 6 in The Sport Network national poll. “We have been fortunate that way. We have demonstrated tremendous ball security.”
A hard-fought 33-27 victory Saturday against the University at Albany in New York improved Maine’s Colonial Athletic Association record to 6-0 with two games remaining, at home against Rhode Island and on the road against New Hampshire.
Four CAA teams have two conference losses: Towson (8-2), Delaware (7-3), William & Mary (7-3) and New Hampshire (5-4). That means a Maine victory over Rhode Island (3-8, 2-5 CAA) Saturday in Orono would secure a first-ever CAA title and with it an automatic berth (and likely first-round bye) to the 24-team Football Championship Subdivision NCAA tournament.
“You go into playing college football and all you want to do is leave your mark,” said Wasilewski, a fifth-year senior. “Looking back on this year, you can say, ‘We made the history books. We did something no one else (at Maine) could do.’ But at the same time, we’re looking to (Saturday), too. It’s far from over for us.”
Wasilewski was penalized twice against Albany for intentional grounding, so his decision-making wasn’t perfect. Still, he clearly has learned from early-season mistakes against UMass, Northwestern and Richmond that resulted in costly interceptions.
“Seniors learn, just like first-year guys,” said Cosgrove on his regular Monday morning CAA conference call.
Cosgrove saw a few more first-year guys on Saturday, as red-shirt freshmen filled holes on special teams because of injuries. Despite a roster limit of 65, Maine took only 50 players on two buses for the seven-hour trip to Albany, broken up by a Thursday night stay in South Portland.
Among those staying behind in Orono was Perillo, an all-CAA tight end who also snaps for place kicks. Red-shirt freshmen Sean Reuss and Max Andrews (a John Bapst graduate) filled in at tight end, with Reuss seeing about 50 snaps and Andrews about a dozen.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of inexperience and the quality can kind of drift down a little bit when you’re talking about going from Justin Perillo to the next guy,” Cosgrove said. “But it’s what you have to do in this game.”
With backup short snapper Jeremy Salmon, a true freshman, also out with an injury, Cosgrove held what he called “Community Auditions” last week to find a replacement snapper, and Reuss won the role.
The timing wasn’t perfect Saturday, as evidenced by Sean Decloux missing two of five PAT attempts as well as a 47-yard field goal, but Cosgrove found no fault with Reuss.
“We had some problems there with the operation but the kid went in and he gave us everything he had,” said Cosgrove, who also praised the “phenomenal effort” from other red-shirt freshmen on special teams that repeatedly won the battle for field position with Albany.
“We can build off of that,” he said. “We can get the video and get these guys coached up because we’ve got to go forward with them.”
Rhode Island Coach Joe Trainer said his team is banged up as well and will not have three of his top four defensive players available in Orono for the final game of the season for the Rams, whose bye week falls next weekend.
Trainer said Maine’s balance on offense is impressive and “on defense, their ability to create turnovers and dominate pretty good offenses is amazing. They’re athletic on defense. They’re not real big, but they move incredibly well.”
Middle linebacker Christophe Mulumba made a season-high 19 tackles against Albany and was named CAA Rookie of the Week for the second time in a row and fourth of the season.
“He’s learning the game more,” Cosgrove said. “His instincts are getting better. We’re excited about his future here with us.”
Mutual admiration is evident between Cosgrove and retiring Albany Coach Bob Ford, who built his program from the club level in 1970 to its current status, with a handsome new stadium that bears his name.
Following a post-game press conference, Cosgrove personally introduced Wasilewski, John Ebeling, Trevor Bates and Mike Mangiarelli to Ford, who greeted them warmly.
“I’ve always respected Jack and admired the way they play,” Ford said after shaking hands with the Black Bears.
“Now that I’ve had a semi-tour of the CAA, I have even greater respect for him. They’re located on the last trolley stop. It’s cold and dark up there. It’s a tough place to recruit, if you compare it to James Madison or Villanova.
“But Jack does a good job of recruiting and then developing kids when he gets ’em there. They always play hard.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or