December 6, 2013

Game-changers paved UMaine’s road to playoffs

Four plays stand out in particular for Jack Cosgrove’s team.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ORONO — They may not have had the last-second dramatics of Auburn, with its Immaculate Deflection to beat Georgia topped by a Walk-off Field Goal Return to upset Alabama, but the University of Maine Black Bears enjoyed their share of game-changing plays in this feel-good football season.

click image to enlarge

Maine defensive back Khari Al-Mateen, shown vying for a pass, may have made the Black Bears’ most critical play of 2013 when his 41-yard run on a fake punt changed momentum in a game against Villanova.

The Associated Press

NCAA FOOTBALL

WHO: No. 5 Maine (10-2) vs. New Hampshire (8-4)

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Alfond Stadium, Orono

RADIO: WLOB-1310 AM

TICKETS: GoBlackBearsTickets.com, (207) 581-BEAR or (800) 756-TEAM.

The fifth-seeded Black Bears (10-2) take on rival New Hampshire (8-4) Saturday afternoon in a second-round NCAA playoff game, the first ever held at Alfond Stadium.

Advance ticket sales surpassed 5,500 Thursday afternoon, already more than the attendance figures for both November home games.

The road to a December playoff game in Orono was not always smooth. Here are the four plays that turned Maine’s season from mediocre to magical.

THE FAKE

The situation: In a matchup of two ranked teams outside of Philadelphia in late October, No. 11 Maine trailed No. 18 Villanova 7-0 in the first quarter and saw its first possession stall after three plays gained only five yards.

The danger: Climbing out of a 14-0 hole to a potent Villanova offense led by elusive quarterback John Robertson would have been a challenge. The Black Bears never trailed by double digits in any of their victories.

The play: Junior safety Khari Al-Mateen, aligned about five yards behind the center in punt protection formation, barked out a code word calling for a fake. Long snapper John Ebeling turned his head to stare in disbelief at Al-Mateen.

“I was like, ‘Turn around!’ You’re going to give it away,” said Al-Mateen, who had been reminded by Coach Jack Cosgrove just before leaving the sideline that if Villanova came out in an unbalanced defensive line – five rushers on one side of Ebeling and two on the other – to call for the fake because Maine would be vulnerable to a blocked punt.

The upshot: Ebeling’s snap went not to punter Jeffrey Ondish, but to Al-Mateen, who cut outside sealing blocks by Troy Eastman and Trevor Bates and ran up the middle of the field for 41 yards before being tackled by Villanova’s punt returner. The offense again sputtered, but sophomore Sean Decloux kicked a 39-yard field goal to make it 7-3 and Maine went on to a 37-35 victory.

“They started really fast,” Al-Mateen said of the Wildcats, the preseason favorites to win the Colonial Athletic Association championship but wound up 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the league, “so that fake punt was a great way to level the playing field and swing the momentum back our way.”

THE CATCH

The situation: In early November in Orono, the Black Bears saw a 13-0 halftime lead evaporate into a 14-13 deficit against Stony Brook, which had forced a three-and-out on three straight Maine drives after halftime. A holding penalty on a punt return pushed the Black Bears back to their own 9 with a little more than seven minutes remaining. Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski completed passes of 14 yards to Damarr Aultman and 18 to Justin Perillo before the Black Bears faced a crucial third-and-11 from their own 42.

The danger: A resurgent Stony Brook running game may have been able to eat up the clock, should Maine fail to score.

The play: Ebeling, a quarterback turned slot receiver who was an outstanding high school basketball player and high jumper in New Jersey, leaped above a defensive back to haul in a Wasilewski pass good for 34 yards to keep the drive alive.

The upshot: Wasilewski connected with Ebeling on the very next play, faking a screen before throwing a 24-yard touchdown pass to give Maine a 19-14 lead that turned out to be the final score.

(Continued on page 2)

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