Saturday, March 8, 2014
ORONO — Here, finally, was their moment.
University of Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski eludes University of New Hampshire defenders Nick Cefalo (16) and Manny Asam (4) as he runs for a first down during the second quarter of their playoff football game at Alfond Stadium in Orono on Saturday.
Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Bruce Johnson of UMaine, right, consoles teammate Tyler Patterson of Owls Head after the Black Bears fell 41-27 to New Hampshire in the NCAA playoffs Saturday at Orono. Maine lost only two games this season to FCS opponents, both to New Hampshire.
Trailing by a touchdown with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter and a raucous crowd rocking Alfond Stadium in the first NCAA playoff football game ever played at the University of Maine, the Black Bears had rival New Hampshire reeling, facing the prospect of a punt from its own end zone.
Sean Goldrich threw a strike for 15 yards to elusive wide receiver R.J. Harris and New Hampshire was on its way to a clinching touchdown drive. The Wildcats beat fifth-seeded Maine 41-27 Saturday before a season-high crowd of 7,992 in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision tournament.
The Black Bears, champions of the Colonial Athletic Association for the first time, ended their season with a record of 10-3, losing to their border rival for the second time after losing in the regular-season finale, 24-3, and for the 11th time in their past 12 meetings.
New Hampshire (9-4) advanced to the quarterfinals against the winner of Saturday night’s game between Sam Houston State and fourth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana.
“My hat’s off to New Hampshire,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “Once again they played better and coached better than we did. I thought our guys played hard, played tough, were undisciplined at times and with that (UNH) offense, it cost us a little bit in some situations.”
Time and again, Goldrich slipped away from an apparent sack or Harris danced free from a defensive back, or Nico Steriti broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage for a big gain.
The Wildcats, who beat Maine at home two weeks ago to earn an at-large tournament bid, again showed a deep bag of tricks that included several direct snaps to Steriti (one of them through the legs of Goldrich), a reverse on a kickoff return and a 24-yard pass from Steriti in a short-yardage situation after he faked a plunge into the middle of the line.
The Black Bears led only once, when Damarr Aultman returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and Sean Decloux added the PAT kick to make it 7-3 late in the first quarter.
Within two minutes, New Hampshire answered. Following a loss of 10 yards on a sack by Cabrinni Goncalves and Devin Clark, Goldrich connected with Justin Mello on a deep comeback route.
One juke following the catch set Mello on the way to a 57-yard touchdown to give New Hampshire the lead for good.
“We missed some tackles,” Cosgrove said. “Some of that is, I guess, a lack of discipline. That’s the best way to say it.”
Even so, the Black Bears hung around. Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (71 yards rushing, 21 of 39 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns) engineered scoring drives on either side of intermission.
His 9-yard completion to John Ebeling helped make it 20-17 at the break.
The second of two short Decloux field goals, from 28 yards, made it 27-20 late in the third.
From there, Maine’s defense forced consecutive punts. The Black Bears moved the chains during two possessions, but converted only one third down (finishing 3 of 13 overall in such situations) and failed to produce a tying touchdown.
“That’s basically what it came down to,” said Wasilewski, who was intercepted twice in the second quarter. “We had some great drives and then at the end, we weren’t able to get the final push.”
A sack by Goncalves and a Goldrich incompletion left New Hampshire on its own 10 facing third-and-13 against a loud home crowd sensing a shift in momentum. But Harris found a bubble in Maine’s pass coverage and Goldrich didn’t miss.
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Rickey Stevens of Maine strides down the field in the fading afternoon light, away from Hayden Knudson of New Hampshire.