September 8, 2013

Steve Solloway: You don't win with choirboys, and Maine isn't missing a beat

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Play it safe? Cabrinni Goncalves practically spit at the thought. "We were playing to win, man. All of us. You don't win football games playing it safe."

Precisely.

The University of Maine beat down longtime rival Massachusetts 24-14 on Saturday. Maine stopped making mistakes and started playing smart, which doesn't mean it played not to lose.

Quite the opposite.

"We've got some guys who are going to drive me crazy but they play the game the right way," said Coach Jack Cosgrove. "We'll calm them down as much as we need to because you can't win this thing with choirboys."

Goncalves is one who does his singing on the turf, not in the church choir loft. Playing outside linebacker, he threw his 5-foot-10, 207-pound body around in the first half, leading Maine with five tackles. It seemed the defense was forever trotting onto the field at Gillette Stadium after the offense turned the ball over or had penalties stall a drive.

"I didn't care," said Goncalves, a sophomore from the nearby Massachusetts town of Taunton. "Every minute I'm playing football on the field is fun. If I'm on the field longer, that means I'm having more fun."

Uh huh. Maine won the game. The Black Bears beat a former conference rival that opted to step up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, where the big boys of Division I football play.

Being a Massachusetts kid who was overlooked by UMass, well, that was cause for satisfaction, too. That the game was won on the home field of the New England Patriots doubled the feeling.

"I grew up 20 minutes from here," said Goncalves, who couldn't count how many family and friends were in the rather meager announced crowd of 15,624.

Plenty, he said.

"This is my first time here. I've never seen the Patriots play."

He was a recruited walk-on to Maine. Meaning Cosgrove was interested but not enough to offer even the smallest partial scholarship. In his first year at Orono, Goncalves sat in the student section, paying for his ticket. He couldn't use the team weight room. He worked out in the campus rec center.

He's an excitable kid. A handful, says Cosgrove. Saturday, Goncalves was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct early in the fourth quarter. The 15-yard penalty gave UMass new life with a first down on its 40. Three incomplete passes later, UMass was forced to punt.

Past Maine teams have faltered during games, permitting beaten opponents back into the game. Goncalves said he had no fear of the past. He had no fear of an FBS opponent with its 80 scholarships compared to Maine's 63.

"I fear God. Only Him."

Sherrod Baltimore is another who can't be called a choirboy. He returns punts and kickoffs. He loathes raising his hand for a fair catch. Saturday, he caught underkicked punts with a posse of UMass defenders only a yard or two away.

While Goncalves and other Maine teammates stood on the sideline staring and shaking their heads. Baltimore, too, wouldn't play it safe. He also had no fear.

"I'm always thinking, catch the ball first, make the first guy miss and then get my six."

As in touchdown. In the third quarter, Baltimore caught another punt in the face of UMass defenders, gained 5 yards and trotted back to the Maine bench, visibly chastising himself.

"You saw that? Yeah, I knew I had to beat just one guy and I had six. But I didn't beat that one guy."

In the fourth quarter, Baltimore refused to signal for a fair catch, caught the punt and was immediately tackled for no gain. This time a Maine assistant coach waving his arm in the fair catch signal met Baltimore as he came to the sideline.

"He was reminding me to play smart," said Baltimore. Which is different from playing safe.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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