ORONO — On a day when the University of Maine set or tied several school playoff records in its 55-27 win over Jacksonville State, it would be easy to overlook the Black Bears’ defensive effort.

That would be a mistake.

Facing an offense that ranked sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision with an average of more than 41 points per game, the Black Bears’ defense made several game-changing plays and forced Jacksonville State to be a one-dimensional, pass-only team in the second half.

Jacksonville State, which averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game, could manage only 87 against Maine. The Black Bears sacked Zerrick Cooper four times and forced two fumbles that led to touchdowns. Maine held the Gamecocks to 1 for 14 on third-down conversions. And four times, the Black Bears stopped JSU on fourth down, twice inside the Maine 5.

Those stops were huge.

The first came late in the first quarter. Down 14-0, Gamecocks Coach John Grass went for it on fourth-and-1 from the JSU 47. But sophomore linebacker Deshawn Stevens stuffed Leander Burrowes on a run to the right for no gain. That led to a Maine touchdown that made it 21-0.

Then, with Maine ahead 35-14, the Gamecocks had first-and-goal at the 9. After three rushes by Jaelen Green pushed the ball to the 2, Stevens again met Burrowes for no gain. Maine followed with a 99-yard drive, capped by Ramon Jefferson’s 24-yard run.

“It’s what we do,” said Stevens. “The Black Hole, take away the tackles.”

Of the fourth-down plays, Stevens said, “We’re aggressive, that’s it … Each one of those fourth downs that came up was just basically what we do best: Swarm to be ball, be relentless.”

“Those plays are your identity as a defense,” said Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak. “It’s what you get up for. It helps having Deshawn Stevens on your side. It fits our identity, that’s who we are, back-against-the-wall type of team. To be able to make big-time plays all year is who we are.”

Jacksonville State senior center Tyler Scozzaro said Maine’s defensive front was “just very physical and aggressive and gap sound, a well-coached bunch on that side.

“They just came out in the first half and played more physical than we did.”

JEFFERSON RUSHED for a career-high 186 yards – the second-most in Maine playoff history behind Carl Smith’s 205 in 1989 – and scored two touchdowns. He was quick to credit the offensive line of Gunnar Docos, Michael Gerace, Chris Mulvey, Liam Dobson and Cody Levy.

“If you were watching the game, you would see sometimes I was just running untouched 15, 20 yards,” said Jefferson. “I’ll take that every day.”

The pass blocking was impressive, too. Maine allowed just one sack and kept quarterback Chris Ferguson from taking any big hits. Ferguson missed parts of the previous two games because of a recurring injury to his right shoulder.

“I think the offensive line gets forgotten about a lot of times,” said Harasymiak. “A lot of the talk was about them all week. We just practiced hard and came out and played well today.”

MAINE IMPROVED to 4-7 in the playoffs. The Black Bears have never advanced past the quarterfinals, losing to Northern Iowa in 2001 and Georgia Southern in 2002 and 2011.


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