ORONO — Whenever you talk about the University of Maine football team, the discussion invariably starts with the Black Hole defense. Chris Ferguson and the offense want to change that.

Ferguson, the junior quarterback, surpassed his career high in the first half with 404 yards and finished with 423 passing yards and three touchdowns as  seventh-ranked Maine overwhelmed Sacred Heart 42-14 in the season opener Friday night at Alfond Stadium. That gave Nick Charlton a victory in his first game as Black Bears head coach.

“I thought the execution was very high and that definitely pleased me and made me feel encouraged,” said Charlton. “That’s got to be the mentality of this offense. We’re challenging the offense to be at that high level.

“I said in the offseason, we have an elite defense that’s trying to go from being elite to being the best in the country. And we have a solid offense that’s trying to be elite. And tonight there were some points where I think we reached that. And that starts at the quarterback position.”

Maine scored touchdowns on all six first-half possessions as Ferguson was nearly perfect, completing his first 11 passes.

“I think we had a good week of prep, I was seeing everything we prepared for,” said Ferguson, who completed 23 of 29 passes  before being replaced by freshman Joe Fagnano with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter. “I’d say the game plan was pretty good because everything we called worked out. I had guys open and the offensive line did an unbelievable job.

“Wide receivers did what they had to do and they made plays. Credit them.”

Ferguson, whose previous career high in the first half was 325 yards, threw touchdown passes to Earnest Edwards (8 yards), Devin Young (10 yards) and Jaquan Blair (14 yards). Blair finished with seven catches for 140 yards. Andre Miller had five catches for 53 yards, Young four catches for 104 and Edwards three for 84.

“That’s what Top Flight does,” said Blair, invoking the wide receiver corp’s nickname. “Ferg puts the ball in position where only we can make the play and we go out there and we compete and make plays whenever we can.”

The defense was pretty good too. While Maine put up 582 yards of total offense, the Black Bears held the Pioneers to 207. Maine held Sacred Heart, which rushed for 241 yards a game last year (15th in the nation), to just 103, most coming late in the game.

“We knew we had our hands full,” said Sacred Heart Coach Mark Nofri. “They’re a great team and they showed it tonight.”

Emmanuel Reed, a grad transfer from FBS school Buffalo, scored two touchdowns and gained 62 yards. Joe Fitzpatrick, the former Cheverus star from North Yarmouth, had 36 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Maine led 21-0 in the game’s first 10:12, putting together long quick-strike drives. The first one went 74 yards in 2:47, resulting in Edwards’ touchdown catch; the second 91 yards in 2:02, with Reed scoring from the 9; the third went 76 yards in 67 seconds, with Fitzpatrick scoring from the 4 – one play after Blair caught a 68-yard pass.

Those drives spurred the defense to play better. “(The offense) came out fast,” said senior safety Josh Huffman. “After the first (touchdown)to Earn, then another big one and then another big one, I said, “They are rolling.’ And the defense had to do the same thing – three-and-out, three-and-out.”

NOTES: Maine’s last 400-yard passing game by a quarterback came on Sept. 19, 2012 when Marcus Wasilewski threw for 409 yards in a 35-14 win over Villanova … With 10:47 left in the second quarter, linebacker Deshawn Stevens was injured on a pass rush. He was taken off the field and carted to the locker room. Stevens, a preseason all-America choice, was Maine’s leading tackler last year. Charlton didn’t know the extent of the injury … Maine had 172 penalty yards. “I’m disappointed in the penalties,” said Charlton.

 


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