Looking back, that Thursday night in late August was a harbinger of greater things for the University of Maine football team.

A 35-7 season-opening victory over New Hampshire that evening was just Maine’s second win over its chief rival in 15 years. And the dominating performance proved to be the first attention-grabber in a remarkable autumn for the Black Bears. Maine would go on to win the Colonial Athletic Association championship for the first time in five years and make the deepest playoff run in program history.

Not bad for a team picked to finish eighth in its own conference.

On Saturday afternoon, the Black Bears (10-3) will play in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the first time. They’ll play at Eastern Washington University (11-2), with the winner earning a berth in the FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 5.

The win over UNH showcased the traits the Black Bears would become known for in 2018 – a swarming Black Hole defense and a balanced offense capitalizing on big plays.

Name a way to win a football game, and the Black Bears did it this season.


Blowout? Along with the UNH game, there were lopsided wins over Albany and Richmond, each by a 28-9 score.

Come from behind? The Black Bears trailed 21-0 five minutes into a game at Western Kentucky before rallying to win, 31-28. At the University of Rhode Island, the Black Bears trailed 30-14 late in the third quarter before pulling out a 38-36 win.

Last-second nail-biters? How about two in a row? First, a 13-10 victory over Villanova on Oct. 6, won by Kenny Doak’s 52-yard field goal as time expired.

A week later, in that game at Rhode Island, Doak nailed a 39-yard field goal on the final play.

Since a 27-20 loss at William & Mary on Oct. 20 – their only blemish in league play – the Black Bears have won six games in a row. That includes a pair of playoff wins the past two weekends over opponents ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25: No. 8 Jacksonville State and No. 3 Weber State. For the season, Maine is 7-0 when facing a ranked team. No. 4 Eastern Washington will be Maine’s fourth consecutive ranked opponent.

The Black Bears built this historic season predominantly by playing well on the road. Saturday’s semifinal marks Maine’s ninth road trip in 14 games. With the 55-27 second-round win over Jacksonville State, Maine finished the season a perfect 5-0 at Alfond Stadium.

While Maine’s offense averages just over 27 points per game, the 2018 Black Bears will be remembered as a team that won with defense.

Maine leads FCS in rushing defense (68.7 yards per game) and ranks ninth in total defense (293.5 yards per game). The Black Bears are second in the nation in sacks, with Sterling Sheffield (9.5 sacks), Kayon Whitaker (9.5 sacks) and Deshawn Stevens (9 sacks) leading the way. In pass coverage, cornerback Manny Patterson leads the nation in pass breakups with 22. On Tuesday, Sheffield earned second-team FCS All-America honors.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.