After the football games have been played, Bertha Kyeremeh has reached for her cellphone and called the University of Maine linebacker who has become part of her family. She’s told Arron Achey how proud of him she is, and how overjoyed she is that Maine has won.

“I thank God,” said Kyeremeh, a spiritual woman. “It is unbelievable what has happened with this team. Words cannot describe how I feel.”

It has been difficult to explain Maine’s road to the NCAA football playoffs. The team that was expected to finish near the bottom of the competitive Colonial Athletic Conference won eight of its 11 games this season, four with improbable rallies in the fourth quarter. On Saturday, Maine will play Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals.

That Maine has danced with defeat time and again and won has made for a once-in-a-lifetime season of triumph. The success has a poignancy that the Kyeremeh family and the Maine football family have shared.

Charles Kyeremeh Jr. was killed this summer in a motorcycle accident. He had left Orono and unofficial workouts in July to return to his parents’ home in southeastern Pennsylvania to celebrate his mother’s birthday.

Kyeremeh was a sophomore running back, about to play his first season with the Black Bears. He was the extrovert with the big smile and bigger heart who had quickly found new brothers among his teammates. Achey, who grew up in the same corner of Pennsylvania, became his closest brother.

“They didn’t know each other (attending different high schools) and they didn’t play against each other,” Bertha Kyeremeh said. “They became so close at Maine. They clicked so well.”

The two were roommates as freshmen last year, drifting off to sleep at night talking about their lives, their futures, and dreaming of the success they’d help Maine attain. They looked ahead like excited school kids to Maine’s game in September 2011 against Pitt, in Pittsburgh.

Before that day came, Charles Kyeremeh’s family, coaches and teammates gathered to celebrate a life that ended too soon.

Sometime after the funeral, Charles and Bertha Kyeremeh asked Jack Cosgrove, Maine’s head coach, if Achey could wear No. 33, which their son had worn at Cedar Crest High School. Wearing that number, Achey got to the Pitt quarterback in the much-anticipated game and made several tackles in Maine’s loss to a big-time, Big East opponent.

Achey later suffered a knee injury and was sidelined for several weeks. He returned to limited action in a loss to Towson in November. He was back on the field in the next game, against Massachusetts, making 12 tackles and intercepting a pass late in the fourth quarter to set up Maine’s go-ahead touchdown in the 32-21 win.

It was one play added to a lengthening list of plays that kept pushing Maine to the playoffs.

On Wednesday, outside the Maine football offices, I asked Achey if he could explain all this snatching victory from defeat. Good execution by good athletes? Good coaching? Good luck?

Or was it something else I was hearing on campus? Was Charles Kyeremeh looking out for this team?

Achey was silent for a moment. He understood the question, but how do you put into words what you believe?

“I think of Charles every day,” he said. “The whole team does. He was loved by the whole team. I don’t know if it was first impressions or what, but the way he was always so positive made everyone else feel good. I believe he’s with us.”

Quarterback Chris Treister, a Portland High graduate whose run for a two-point conversion against James Madison on Oct. 8 gave Maine the first of its four comeback wins, said, “All the teams we play put in the same work and the same game planning. You need to have that X-factor to win games, and that could be anything.”

He said, “About 25 of us kneel down before the game and say a prayer together. Coach says to say whatever we want, and we do. Every week, someone says Charles’ name. There’s nothing we can do to bring him back, but we try to honor him by how we play.”

Cosgrove said there was discussion before the season of how to remember Kyeremeh. The team decided to do it quietly and personally. While Achey wears No. 33 on his jersey, the other players wear it on their helmets. The coaches have No. 33 on their headphones.

“Anytime you lose one of your own it’s devastating,” said Dennis Dottin-Carter, an assistant coach. “(Kyeremeh) is, without a doubt, with us. The team is playing for the one who can’t play. He is our 12th man.”

Bertha and Charles Kyeremeh, who came to the United States from Ghana, can’t make it to North Carolina for Saturday’s game. They will listen over the Internet.

“I tell myself don’t be sad, and I am not,” Bertha Kyeremeh said. “I’m so happy for Arron and the team. I see God’s hand.”

And a different victory, of life’s spirit.

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

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