Thursday, September 03, 2009

UMaine survives a scare

DSC01617 Jared Turcotte missed the opener with a leg injury
It was an event, the way college football should always be, no matter where it is. Under the lights, beautiful weather, and an opponent that was supposed to serve as a tune-up to the CAA opponents Maine was going to face this season. Someone, however, forgot to tell St Cloud St that they were supposed to lay down for the Black Bears. Maine survived a scare against the Division II opponent, beating the Huskies 34-27 in overtime, and learned they have a long way to go to justify their #19 ranking in the pre-season polls.

“Can't take anything away from (St Cloud), they were very well-coached, “said Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “I told the team it reminded me of a young Maine team who played Mississippi St and Nebraska.”

Maine's offense was off-kilter early, as the running game got shut down by the St Cloud defense on the first two offensive series. The St Cloud offense used a quick strike, hurry-up passing-attack in a modified “pistol” formation (where the running back stands back of the quarterback, off to the side), and got on the board with a 27 yard field goal from Tyler Aldridge to start the scoring at 3-0. Maine then got a big play from junior return man Desmond Randall, who returned the ensuing kick-off 80 yards to give Maine a 7-3 lead. Not only did the return get Maine on the board, it got the crowd back into the tilt. Randall, who missed all of last year with after an appendectomy, was happy to be on the field again and contributing.

“I had the butterflies before the game, no question,” said Randall. “I went through spring ball, but it's not the same.'

Said Maine quarterback Mike Brusko, “Dez said before the game he was going to run one back.”

To which Randall replied, “Yeah I did. I couldn't sleep at all last night, just had a feeling I would run one back.”

After exchanging a bad series apiece, St Cloud got an 8 yard touchdown run from Brandon Geiss (who finished with 109 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns) early in the second quarter to give St Cloud a 10-7 lead, and it was evident from that point on the Huskies were not going anywhere. Effective play-calling and fantastic catches from wide-outs Fred Williams and Tyler Allery kept the Maine defensive backs off-balance and out of sync all night long.

“We weren't a little tentative (in the defensive backfield), ” said Cosgrove. “We were a lot tentative. We have a lot to work on for next week.”

Maine finished the half's scoring with two field goals by Jordan Waxman, the first from 30 yards, and the second with time running out in the half from 38 yards to give Maine a 13-10 lead at the half. The last field goal was impressive considering Maine was out of timeouts, and they had to rush their field goal unit on the field quickly. With Maine's kicking struggles last year, it w as a welcome sight to see the kick go through the uprights.

“We call it 'mayday' when he have to run the kicking team on the field like that,” said Cosgrove. “It's good to have the kicking game working, and it turned out be very crucial.”

After a promising Maine drive ended with a horrible interception by Mike Brusko in the end zone, St Cloud stormed back with another well executed drive led by the very capable senior quarterback Mitch Watkins. Geiss capped the drive off with a 6 yard plunge to give St Cloud the lead again at 17-13, and prove to everyone they didn't make this trip to get blown out. Brusko took the responsibility for the bad pass.

“The linebacker did a great job staying with Roosevelt (Brown)on that play,” said Brusko. “I threw it in a bad spot.”

Maine answered with the legs of Brown and Derek Session, both of whom saw an up-tick in their workload on a night when Lewiston's Jared Turcotte sat out with an injured groin, hamstring, or sports hernia (we heard 3 different reasons for him being out, never a good sign). Mike Brusko capped off the 10 play 61 yard drive with a 2 yard plunge, making the score 20-17 Maine. St Cloud responded with a 23 yard touchdown pass to Fred Williams (who had a career night with 171 yards receiving and a touchdown), giving the Huskies another lead, and giving Maine fans a mild heart attack.

Brusko and the offense answered, grinding out a 13 play, 80 yard scoring drive that ended with Session going in from 10 yards out, giving Maine the 27-24 lead. It left St. Cloud with 1:59 left, however, and it would turn out to be too much time. Watkins converted a 3rd and 8, finding Williams for 17 yards and bringing the Huskies to the Maine 32. Then on a 4th and 15, he threw a beautiful fade route, which Williams hauled in for a 24 yard gain to keep St. Cloud alive and give them a chance at a field goal, which they converted with 6 seconds left to tie the game at 27. Luckily, the Maine Running game had done enough damage to wear down the pesky Huskies.

Maine got the ball first in overtime at the St Cloud 25, and used 6 straight running plays to get into the end zone, which reached it's climax when Brusko drove into the end zone from 5 yards out. Waxman converted the PAT, giving Maine the 34-27 lead. St Cloud got their opportunity form the Maine 25, but the 7 play drive ended when Watkins overthrew his tight-end Angellotti in the endzone, giving Maine a win to open their season.

“It's better to have a win under your belt than a loss,“ said Cosgrove after the game. “We'll preach that all week.”

1-0 looks good, no matter how you got there.



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