The University of Maine faces an option offense for the first time all season, while Maine Maritime Academy of Castine pits its triple-option attack against another in two of today’s key football games involving Maine colleges.
Both the Black Bears and the Mariners face critical tests in their respective quests to remain in the hunt for conference titles.
Maine (5-2) at Rhode Island (2-5), noon, Meade Stadium, Kingston, R.I.: With the threat of heavy rains and high winds setting the stage for a quagmire on one of only three grass fields left in the Atlantic 10, the 15th-ranked Bears must contend with the Rams’ option offense.
UMaine, coming off its third straight win (21-10 over Hofstra), is counting on its formidable defense to keep Rhode Island in check and help keep the Bears on track for a possible North Division crown.
“It’s kind of like a wildcard thrown in there,” Bears defensive end Pat McCrossan said of the option.
“Every year it’s the same, because no other team in the A-10 runs it,” he added, explaining the players must adhere strictly to their respective assignments.
Despite its struggles, URI ranks third in A-10 rushing (215 yards per game) and has a couple of good threats in fullback Joe Casey (98 ypg) and halfback Jimmy Hughes (49 ypg).
They’ll face the top-ranked rushing defense in the conference (59 ypg), with UMaine relying on linebackers Andrew Downey (team-best 48 tackles), John Wormuth (37), and Jovan Belcher (30) to spearhead the effort.
“We’re always trying to stop the run, but it’s even more of an emphasis this week because they’re going to run the ball 80 percent of the time,” McCrossan said.
Offensively, UMaine hopes to continue its development. The Bears encounter a defense that ranks last in the A-10 in scoring defense (30.1 ppg) and total defense (378 ypg).
Tailback Arel Gordon, who needs 78 yards rushing and 29 yards receiving to reach 1,000 career yards in both categories, sets the tone for the run game (89 ypg). Quarterback Ron Whitcomb (84-for-144, 709 yds., 6 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) leads the air assault, throwing to Gordon (31 rec., 198 yds.) and wideouts Manzi Pierre (16-183) and Ryan Callahan (13-164).
Whitcomb took it easy early in the week after taking some hard hits against Hofstra, but he was cleared to play and is expected to start. Redshirt freshman Mike Brusko is the backup.
The URI defense, facing its fourth straight nationally ranked opponent, is headed up by linebacker L.T. Brantley (54 tackles) and cornerbacks Virgil Gray (46) and Raji El-Amin (44).
UMaine has won the last five meetings between the two squads and leads the all-time series 48-33-3. However, the Bears haven’t won consecutive road games since 2002.
Coast Guard (6-1) at Maine Maritime (5-2), noon, Ritchie Field, Castine: The Mariners go into today’s game with a chance to take the upper hand in the New England Football Conference Bogan Division.
MMA is 4-1 in division play and could overtake the Bears, newcomers to the conference who are 5-0 in the division. The teams haven’t met since 1972 when MMA won 10-6.
The Mariners could have their hands full against the league’s No. 2 offense, which has netted 26.7 points and 367 total yards per outing. Coast Guard, which would clinch the Bogan title with a victory, also runs an option offense. It features quarterback Christian George, who ranks third in NEFC rushing (88 ypg, 9 TDs) and has also passed for 987 yards and six scores.
However, George was injured in last week’s win over Worcester State and his status for today’s game is uncertain. The Bears have another productive back in Lance Lynch (77 ypg).
The Mariners also look to control play with their option attack. Quarterback Brandon Hamilton, the league’s No. 2 rusher (107 ypg), and fullback Jim Bower (60 ypg) head the charge.
Defensively, MMA has been stouter, especially against the run (78 ypg). Nate Bolduc (50 tackles) Wayne Withers (40) lead a balanced squad.
Husson (4-4) at La Salle (2-5), 1 p.m., McCarthy Stadium, Philadelphia: The Eagles will try to get above the .500 mark against the Explorers.
La Salle is a Division I-AA scholarship program which, in spite of its record, ranks second in the country against the pass (120 ypg) and 14th in total defense (268 ypg). The Explorers are coming off a 28-0 setback at Iona.
Husson, which finishes the season with two road games, dropped a 24-7 decision to Alfred a week ago. The Eagles continue to play solid defense, giving up 20.6 points and 282 yards per game.
Husson’s struggles have been on offense, where it is averaging 16.4 points and 240 yards. Freshman tailback Bryan Ferguson has been the Eagles’ most productive player while rushing for 85 yards per game and netting 155 all-purpose yards.
Colby (1-4) at Bates (0-5), noon, Garcelon Field, Lewiston: The Colby-Bates-Bowdoin series begins today as the White Mules take on the Bobcats for the 109th time. Colby leads the storied rivalry 61-41-6 and seeks to take the first step toward its fourth consecutive CBB title.
Both teams have struggled mightily, especially on offense. Colby has scored only 37 points all season (7.4 ppg), while Bates has mustered 46 (9.2).
Today’s other game: Bowdoin (0-5) at Wesleyan (2-3), 12:30 p.m.