Tuesday, March 11, 2014
ORONO — The snow piled up, and the opportunities ran out for the University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears ended their regular season in snowy tracks at Alfond Stadium on Saturday with a 28-24 loss to New Hampshire.
The Wildcats used a late game-winning drive, coming on the heels of a Maine touchdown called back by a holding penalty, to win the Colonial Athletic Association's North Division title.
The win is expected to send the Wildcats (9-2, 6-2 CAA) into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, while Maine (8-4, 5-3) is likely to be left out.
Maine's hallmark ground game -- the spark behind six straight wins -- was stalled by New Hampshire's defense and the conditions. The Black Bears were held to 134 yards rushing.
''We weren't running the ball as effectively as we wanted to. That's a credit to them,'' said quarterback Michael Brusko. ''It was tough footing for our guys up front. It was tough conditions. That's not an excuse. It's not why we lost the game. Just makes it a little bit tougher.''
Maine went ahead 24-21 with 2:42 left in the third quarter, then had a chance to take a two-score lead after an interception by Lionel Nixon Jr. in the fourth quarter gave the Black Bears possession at the UNH 37.
Jhamal Fluellen reeled off what would have been a 19-yard touchdown run, but a holding penalty negated the play. The drive stalled two plays later on an incomplete pass to the end zone.
UNH quarterback R.J. Toman then spearheaded an 11-play, 79-yard drive, highlighted by two first-down conversions on fourth-and-inches and again on third-and-10. Mike Boyle scored on a 22-yard reception, though it appeared he was pushed out of bounds by linebacker Andrew Downey at the 5.
''We should have had him tackled shortly after the catch. Should've knocked him out of bounds,'' said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. ''Kid made a great play.''
The Black Bears got the ball back with 3:24 to play, but Brusko was picked off at the UNH 47.
''I shouldn't have thrown it,'' said Brusko. ''I was trying to get it to my tight end coming across. He was covered anyway and I was hit as I was throwing. It was a throw I shouldn't have made.''
Maine got the ball back one more time with 1:16 to play, but Brusko threw three straight incompletions, and then an interception on fourth down.
At least four CAA teams -- James Madison, Richmond, Villanova and New Hampshire -- are expected to receive a bid to the 16-team FCS playoffs, but Maine's chances of being selected are slim.
Only once before has the selection committee taken five teams from the CAA -- last year, when New Hampshire got in despite having four losses.
''Eight-win football teams most often go to the playoffs,'' said Cosgrove. ''(UNH) is a team that just beat us that is assuredly going. And I don't know there's much difference between the two of us.
''I told our team in the locker room, don't go to bed giving up hope. Things can happen.
''We can play with anybody. They won't put us in because they're afraid we'll knock somebody off.''
The playoff field will be announced at 7 p.m. tonight on ESPNU.
Maine got a 3-yard touchdown run from Pushaun Brown in the first quarter following fumble recovery. After blocking a New Hampshire punt on the next possession, Maine went ahead 10-7 on a 30-yard field goal by Jordan Waxman.
Chad Kackert broke loose for an 18-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to give New Hampshire a 14-10 lead.
Maine responded in the third quarter with a 62-yard drive, ending with a 1-yard run by Brusko.
UNH regained the lead on a 29-yard reception by Boyle, but a 3-yard run by Fluellen put Maine ahead 24-21.
Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:
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