As the University of Maine football team prepares for its final four crucial games of the season, there is literally no rest for the weary – or dinged-up – Black Bears.

Because Maine had its bye in the third week of the season – following two games against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision, Connecticut and Toledo – the Black Bears face a daunting schedule in the remaining four weeks without the benefit of any extra time to recover, physically or mentally.

And Maine’s next two opponents – William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Saturday and Villanova in Orono on Nov. 5 – will be coming off bye weeks entering those games. New Hampshire, which plays at Maine on Nov. 19, has its bye on Nov. 5.

If any team is going to have an edge, it’s probably the one coming off a bye because, as Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak said recently, “We won’t get that week of rest that other teams will get.”

Maine had the earliest bye of any team in the Colonial Athletic Association, on Sept. 17. And at the time, it seemed like a good break for Maine, coming off a 45-3 loss at Toledo. That game, and the opening 24-21 loss at Connecticut, had tested the Black Bears physically. But given the sometimes brutal nature of football, where players are tested physically and mentally on every play, they sure could use a couple of extra days off now if they want to stay in the CAA playoff race.

Six teams are within one game of first place, including the Black Bears, who have won four in a row and are 3-1 in the CAA, 4-3 overall. After playing at William & Mary (1-3, 3-4) on Saturday, Maine faces Villanova (4-1, 6-2), Stony Brook (4-0, 5-2) and New Hampshire (4-1, 5-3) in November. Villanova and Stony Brook are both ranked in the top 25 in both national Football Championship Subdivision polls. New Hampshire is sitting just outside the Top 25.

While Maine is relatively healthy – starting safety DeAndre Scott will likely miss his third consecutive game with a sprained left foot – that could change in a play.

So Harasymiak is altering the team’s practice methods the rest of the way.

“Our practices aren’t going to be physical from here on out,” he said. “We have to limit our physicality until Saturdays. I just think that’s the way it’s got to be the rest of the way.

“Injuries are going to happen. But if you’re going to be injured, it has to be on Saturday and not in practice.”

Maine has had its share of bumps and bruises this year. Linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga missed one game after he took a knee to the helmet. Cornerback Najee Goode had to sit out a couple of series in last week’s 28-21 win over Rhode Island because of a foot issue. Linebacker Taji Lowe missed some time last week when he was gashed above the eye, requiring stitches.

And wide receiver Jaleel Reed is out until at least the last game of the season with a broken thumb.

Harasymiak knows that every team is in the same situation this time of year. No one is completely healthy.

But the teams coming off byes are generally more rested. As William & Mary Coach Jimmye Laycock said, they have had a chance to refocus.

“You’re able to rest your guys,” he said in a weekly CAA teleconference call. “The practice guys who haven’t been able to get many reps get some reps. Coaches are able to get some recruiting in.

“I think it’s important to have that open date, ideally, somewhere near the middle of the season. It just gives you a chance to do something different and break the monotony of the season, because it is a long season.”

Instead, Maine has to push through whatever pains it might have.

“Since we don’t have a bye week now, everyone has to recover a little faster,” said sophomore linebacker Sterling Sheffield, who made a game-saving play a week ago, tipping a pass away from a Rhode Island receiver to safety Jason Matovu for a game-ending interception.

How do you do that?

“Go to the trainer, try to stay as healthy as you can,” said Sheffield. “You get ice, you get in the hot tub, you get treatment. You try to stay on your peak performance.”

Senior quarterback Dan Collins is reminding the younger players to drink water.

“Staying hydrated is probably the most important thing,” he said. “You can’t go anywhere if you’re not healthy.”

And if Maine wants to go anywhere this season, Harasymiak knows what it will take.

“We have to stay healthy,” he said.

It’s really as simple as that.

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