Josh Mack transferred from Maine after rushing for 1,335 yards as a sophomore. Now he’s landed at Liberty University, which will be home against the Black Bears on Saturday night. Kevin Bennett photo

Josh Mack was an All-America running back for the University of Maine as a sophomore in 2017 after rushing for a Football Championship Subdivision-best 1,335 yards and nine touchdowns. And then he left.

Mack transferred to Liberty University and will face his old team Saturday night when Maine travels to Lynchburg, Virginia, to take on the Flames at Williams Stadium. Mack had to sit out one season but now, after getting little playing time early this season, has come on and leads Liberty with 360 rushing yards, averaging 6.3 yards a carry.

His former teammates can’t wait to greet him.

“There’s going to be a lot of love,” said senior defensive lineman Charles Mitchell. “After the game. On the field, it is what it is.”

This is Maine’s second game of the season against a Football Bowl Subdivision team. The Black Bears lost to Georgia Southern 26-18 on Sept. 7. But this is a game Maine desperately needs.

At 2-4, the Black Bears are in jeopardy of not making the FCS playoffs, especially with an 0-3 record in the Colonial Athletic Association. A win over Liberty, which stands at 4-2 with four consecutive wins, would put Maine right back into the playoff picture.

Not that Coach Nick Charlton is worried about the playoffs right now. He just wants his team to get better.

“Early in the season we played some good teams and didn’t play well enough to win,” he said. “Last weekend (a 24-17 loss to Richmond), we faced some adversity (losing quarterback Chris Ferguson to a foot injury). We need to find a way to fight through it and get a win. We just need to play better to win, whether it’s FBS or FCS it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to play them and we’ve got to win.”

Freshman Joe Fagnano is likely to start in place of Ferguson, who didn’t practice this week. Fagnano completed 10 of 16 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown last week. He also threw an interception.

Senior wide receiver Jaquan Blair said the Black Bears are confident Fagnano can lead them. “I think a full week of preparation will make a huge difference,” said Blair. “He’ll be more comfortable with the play calling. He’ll be ready.”

Defensively, the Black Bears have to be ready for Mack, who gained 113 yards rushing and 64 receiving in Liberty’s latest game, a 20-13 win over New Mexico State on Oct. 5. The Flames were off last week.

“He’s a patient back,” said Mitchell. “He’s going to try to follow his blockers. Our job up front is to disrupt their blocking path, try to knock guys back and not give him a lane to run.”

Mitchell isn’t surprised Mack is having success at Liberty. “He was a great back here and we loved him,” he said. “It’s no surprise at all.”

But Maine, which has three victories over FBS opponents in its history, also has to deal with a strong Liberty passing game. In the loss to Richmond, Maine gave up 175 yards passing in the second half, mostly on two plays – a 52-yarder and a 66-yard touchdown play – that Charlton called “debilitating.”

“Those are what probably won and lost the game,” he said. “Those things can’t happen. They need to be corrected.”

Maine is receiving $300,000 from Liberty in guaranteed money, which will go to the school’s athletic budget. But the players see this as a chance for more than financial gains.

“We cherish it,” Blair said of the chance to play FBS opponents. “It’s more of a challenge to play against some of the best talent in the nation. We get a chance to show how tough Maine is, show our talent, what we can do.

“We’re going out there to compete. We don’t go play them just for extra money. We go out there to win every game.”

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