Monday, March 10, 2014
DURHAM, N.H. — For nearly every narrow victory in this, the finest football season for the University of Maine in a half-century, an opportunity arose and Maine seized it.
Maine defensive back Khari Al-Mateen breaks up a pass intended for New Hampshire wide receiver Jared Allison in the first half Saturday at Durham, N.H. UNH won, 24-3.
The Associated Press
Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (7) gets sacked by New Hampshire’s Sean McCann (58), Jay Colbert (55) and Matt Kaplan (60) in the second half of an NCAA.
The Associated Press
On Saturday, the Black Bears had a chance for a tying touchdown on the opening drive of the second half against archrival New Hampshire. Instead of a short field goal, Maine opted for a fourth-down pass.
Safety Manny Asam swatted it away and the Wildcats went on to pin the first conference loss on Maine, 24-3 before a crowd of 10,333 at Cowell Stadium.
Maine ended the regular season with a 10-2 record, clinching the Colonial Athletic Association title last weekend with a 7-0 start in conference play. Ranked fourth in the country among Football Championship Subdivision schools, the Black Bears now await their placement in the 24-team NCAA tournament; the field will be announced Sunday.
“This is a new season coming up,” said Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, whose streak of 170 passes without an interception ended late in the second quarter. “The wins and losses don’t even matter at this point because we’re 0-0 now.”
No. 21 New Hampshire (7-4 overall, 6-2 CAA) won for the sixth time in seven weeks in a furious bid to extend its nation-best streak of NCAA tournament appearances to 10 years.
“Yeah, we should be in the playoffs,” said UNH Coach Sean McDonnell, whose team entered the weekend ranked 26th in the Gridiron Power Index, a top indicator of playoff inclusion for the 13 at-large bids awarded to teams falling short of conference championships.
“We just beat a team that was undefeated in the best conference in the country, that the only (other) loss they have is to a (bowl-eligible) team.”
New Hampshire took a 10-3 halftime lead, but Rickey Stevens of Maine broke free for 60 yards on the first play of the third quarter. A run and two short passes left the Black Bears with a fourth-and-1 from the 14.
“I just didn’t think we were going to win the game kicking field goals,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “I thought we had a good call and we needed to assert ourselves.”
Wasilewski faked a handoff and rolled right. Tight coverage made him hesitate, then a pass rusher made him attempt a throw to John Ebeling. Asam intervened.
“At first I thought he was going to run it,” Asam said, “but we got good pressure on him and he kind of threw it late and I was there to get my hand on it.”
Maine’s next five possessions yielded a single first down. A strip sack by linebacker Shane McNeely caused a Wasilewski fumble for Maine’s second turnover after six straight games without one.
New Hampshire needed only 20 yards to score. Quarterback Sean Goldrich – who relieved injured starter Andy Vailas late in the second quarter – scrambled and found Jimmy Giansante for a 6-yard pass as the Wildcats made it 17-3 late in the third.
Maine gave up its wind advantage for the fourth quarter, then saw Nico Steriti burst through the line and gallop 68 yards for a back-breaking touchdown.
“They’re a tough defense,” said Steriti, who finished with 139 yards on 18 carries. “They had their secondary guys flying down, stuffing the holes, so it was tough to get anything going. … But we knew little by little we’d get our opportunity.”
The Wildcats created their first opportunity with a reverse on a fake punt good for 7 yards and a first down on their second series, extending a 14-play drive culminating in a 5-yard TD pass from Vailas to Jordan Powell.
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