Sunday, November 23, 2008

Maine's Magical Season Over (Or So We Thought)

It was a day that was perfect for Maine Football. The cold, wind and snow of Morse Field in Orono would most assuredly give the Black Bears the upper hand. Their 3 talented running backs of (Red Shirted Fr) Jared Turcotte, (Sr) Jhamal Fluellen and (Fr) Pushaun Brown combined with the tough running of (Jr) QB Michael Brusko would control the game in these conditions. One problem though, someone forgot to tell that to the UNH Wildcats.

The Wildcats used both smash mouth and finesse football on offense, and buckled down on defense when needed, to outlast the University of Maine Black Bears 28 - 24. UNH gained a bid to the FCS and took home the Brice-Cowell Musket for another year.

UNH got the ball to start the game and wasted little time getting on the board. The Wildcats tandum of running backs, (Jr) Chad Kackert and (Sr) Robert Simpson, both had nice runs on the opening drive, but the big one was busted by Kackert. Kackert broke through the Maine D line, made a Maine defensive back miss and scampered 46 yards for a TD. With the extra point, UNH went up 7 - 0.

Maine's 1st drive stalled after a nice return to their own 46, but got a break when Maine's Andrew Downey recovered a UNH fumbled on their next drive. Maine took over at the UNH 39. With a couple of nice runs by Brusko and Brown, Maine got down to the UNH 2. The Maine offensive live opened up a huge hole for Brown, who blasted in for the score, combing with the extra point made it 7 -7.

Maine's Black Hole defense came up big in the next series with big stops by Windham's Red Shirted Fr DE Raibonne Charles and Sr LB Sean Wasson. Maine stuffed UNH's running attack forcing a UNH punt. Maine's Fr DB Mike Kuhn blasted around the UNH lineman and blocked the kick, Maine taking over deep in UNH territory.

UNH's defensive line came up big, stuffing Maine's Turcotte and Brusko to force Jordan Waxman's first field goal attempt of the season. Waxman came in and nailed it dead center from 30 yards to put Maine up 10 - 7.

Maine's defense came to play the next couple of series as Wasson, Charles and (Sr) Javon Belcher all made huge stops, highlighted by Wasson absolutely demolishing Kackert on the right sideline.

Kackert got the last laugh as he had a pretty cutback run an 18 yard TD scamper, his second of the day to make it UNH 14 Maine 10.

Both defenses shut the door the rest of the half highlight plays by UNH's (Sr) DB Maurice Duper, and yes, he is the cousin of fromer Miami Dolphins WR Mark "Super" Duper and Maine's Belcher. Duper made 2 outstanding open field takles to stop Maine 1st downs and Belcher went sideline to sideline twice following Kackert on a beautiful stop for a UNH loss.

The Halftime score was Maine 10 UNH 14.

Maine got the ball to start the 2nd half, returning the kick to their own 37. With the snow and wind died down, Maine went to play action pass and Brusko found Turcotte out of the backfield for a big 32 yard gain on 1st down. The drive then started to sputter and it looked like the Black Bears would be forced to punt. Brusko lined up to punt the ball, faked and hit Andrew Downey for the 1st down. Power runs by Fluellen and Brusko finished the drive as Brusko blasted it in from the 1, combined with the extra point, to take a 17 - 14 lead.

UNH's dormant passing attack then came to the forefront. After a great return was called back by a UNH hold, the Wilcats started at their own 24. (So) QB RJ Toman unleashed a beautiful 34 yard pass to (Fr) WR Chris Jeannot. Simpson rushed for a couple nice gains including a pile driver of an 11 yarder to move deeper into Maine territory. Toman came up big again, launching a 29 yard strike to (Sr) WR Mike Boyle. After the extra point, UNH was up 21 - 17.

Maine went 4 and out on the next series, which set up a game changing series of events. Maine's punter Kash Keifer boomed a 62 yard bomb, that was downed at the UNH 11. On the 1st play of the UNH series, Maine defenders Charles and Wasson stuffed Tomans keeper for a 4 yard loss to the UNH 7. Here comes the game changer. (Sr) DL Jonathan Pirruccello and (Jr) DL Jordan Stevens got a huge push again, Toman scrambled back into the endzone, where Pirruccello tackled him for an apparent safety. The officials ruled forward progress to the 1, which allowed a UNH punt.

After the short punt, Maine again had trouble moving the ball. UNH stuffed a play action pass in the endzone and stopped Turcotte on successive plays, but the Black Bears got their only break from the officials on the day, as they were bailed out by a phantom pass interference call on a 4th down pass that fell to the ground. With the 2nd life, Maine blasted their way to the goal, culminating in a Fluellen 3 yard TD run with 2:42 left in the 3rd. Maine leads 24 - 21.

Going into the 4th, both teams had drives sputter, resulting in punts. The momentum seemed to swing Maine's way with 12:00 minutes left in the game as Maine's (Sr) DB Lionel Nixon picked off Toman at the UNH 37.

Maine immediately went to work with a nice screen pass from Brusko to (Red Shirted Fr) RB Derek Session for a big 13 yard gain. After nothing on 1st and 2nd downs, Brusko rolled right in an option setting, pitching to Fluellen, who busted through the line for what seemed to be the game ending 19 yard TD run. The Back Judge came in with a late flag for holding Maine, negating the TD. With the air being let out of the team, the drive was stopped and Maine turned the ball over on downs.

UNH took the ball and drove methodically down the field taking huge time off the clock. Kackert and Simpson blasted for 1st down after 1st down to move into Maine territory. Toman bailed UNH out twice on the drive with a 3 and 11 scamper for 14 yards and a 1 yard 4th down play to extend the drive. Toman then hit Boyle for his 2nd TD of the game, scampering down the right sideline for the TD. It was clear to most everyone in the stands and on the sideline that Boyle stepped out at the 5, clear to everyone but the ref, who let the TD stand. UNH went up 28 - 24 with 3:27 left in the game.

Maine would have to come from behind with their passing game if it was meant to be, but it wasn't. Maine had 2 shots, both drives ending in Brusko interceptions, the first being particularly painful, as Brusko didn't see Jared Turcotte all alone up the right sideline with nothing but snow in front of him. UNH knelt on the ball, beating the Black Bears 28 - 24 to take home the CAA North Division Title.

Maine must now wait until 7 PM tonight and see if the FCS committee selects 5 teams from the CAA 2 years in a row. The selection show will be on ESPNU.



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