ORONO — Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski went six games without throwing an interception as the Black Bears raced to a 10-1 record in a magical autumn.
It was an eye-popping statistic that was not lost on a New Hampshire defense determined to maintain its recent dominance over its rival.
The Wildcats were up to the challenge. They picked off Wasilewski once while winning the regular-season finale two weeks ago. With the stakes set higher Saturday in a second-round FCS playoff game, New Hampshire struck twice, snaring a pair of Wasilewski passes in the second quarter en route to a 41-27 victory at Alfond Stadium.
“We knew we had the wind today. We knew that was going to be a problem for them throwing the ball,” New Hampshire cornerback Steven Thames said. “We saw them throwing a lot of deep out routes, a lot of quick five-step throws. The coaches did a great job this week watching the film and getting us dialed in with the scheme.”
Wasilewski’s first interception came on the first play of the second quarter with his team in prime position to overcome a 10-7 deficit, and it provided some quick redemption for Wildcat freshman Casey DeAndrade.
DeAndrade had found himself in the wrong spot at the wrong time as the first quarter ended, a Maine punt hitting him in the leg as he raced downfield and resulting in a turnover at the New Hampshire 45.
He was drifting back into coverage moments later when Wasilewski underthrew a receiver racing toward the end zone. The receiver never broke stride, but DeAndrade saw the ball all the way, leaping to field it like a punt and landing on his backside at the 5.
“I was running with the man and I thought he was going to compete for it, so I kind of fell down,” said DeAndrade, who also had the interception of Wasilewski two Saturdays ago. “Otherwise I could have ran with it a little.
“We turned the ball over on special teams right before that. It was a miscommunication; the ball hit me. So it was good to get the ball back for our offense. I owed them one a little bit.”
Eight minutes later, trailing 17-10, Wasilewski was victimized again. On first down from his 38, he was flushed from the pocket and racing right when he tried to find a receiver along the sideline. The ill-advised pass ended up instead in Thames’ hands.
“The receivers did a wheel route, they switched. And my safety Manny Asam did a great job in forcing him to throw outside because he had the coverage inside, and I just jumped it,” Thames said.
That turnover led to a New Hampshire field goal and a 20-10 lead.
The interceptions were indicative of a terrific defensive performance by the Wildcats. They held Maine without a touchdown for a 24-3 win two weeks ago. On Saturday, Wasilewski finished 21 of 39 for 229 yards, but was able to mount only one touchdown drive that mattered, at the end of the first half.
The Black Bears also scored once on a kickoff return and got into the end zone with 21 seconds remaining, long after the outcome was secure.
Maine was just 3 of 13 on third down.
Thames said there was no secret to the Wildcats’ success.
“We practice hard every week but with Maine, it’s a rivalry. We prepare to play even harder against them,” he said.
“We want to beat them every single time.”
Mark Emmert can be reached at 791-6424 or at: