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Black Bears continue history-making run

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Black Bears continue history-making run (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

ORONO – It was an historic afternoon for the University of Maine Black Bears last week.

UMaine won its first-ever home playoff game and its first playoff game of any kind since 2011 when the Black Bears knocked off the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State 55-27 in the second round of college football’s FCS playoffs.

The Black Bears – seeded seventh overall in FCS - now sit at 9-3 and head to Ogden, Utah next, where they will take on the second-seeded Weber State Wildcats.

It was a game that most pundits had pegged as a low-scoring affair, but it didn’t take long for the University of Maine to flip the script. Led by quarterback Chris Ferguson, the Black Bears put up 42 points in the first half, a playoff record for UMaine.

The Bears scored three times in the first quarter, with Ferguson tossing a pair of TD passes to Earnest Edwards and one to Jaquon Blair. He tossed another TD to Micah Wright in the second quarter before the running game took over the scoring, with both Edwards and Ramon Jefferson carrying the ball into the end zone.

The scoring pace slowed in the second half, with the Bears scoring once in each quarter – a TD pass to Drew Belcher from Ferguson in the third, another Ramon Jefferson TD run in the fourth – but by then the damage was done. All told, Ferguson went for five TDs and no turnovers on the day, albeit with just 159 yards, while Jefferson went off for a career-best 186 yards on the ground.

Jacksonville State’s offense might have been able to muster a comeback against some foes, but the Black Bears defense showed why it is one of the most highly-regarded in all of FCS football. You can talk about the four sacks and the three forced turnovers – both signs of a defense firing on all cylinders – but all you really need to know is this: 1-for-14. That was the Gamecocks’ success rate on third-down conversions. Yeah, they converted once. And they were only 2-for-6 on fourth down.

Think about that. That offense was successful in do-or-die first-down situations … three times. Out of 20. That’s a hell of a day. The sacks are great and the turnovers are obviously big momentum shifters, but that prevention rate is a thing of beauty.

It was a well-fought effort by Jacksonville State, who finish their season at 9-4. They’re no stranger to the FCS playoffs, though, having won the Ohio Valley Conference five times. They’ll be back in no time.

This Black Bears team looks like it might be peaking at exactly the right time. It has been some time since UMaine was making this kind of playoff noise; considering the year that Coach Joe Harasymiak and these Black Bears have had, it’s not hard to see them as something of a team of destiny.

Make no mistake – Weber State is no joke. It’s not like this is going to be an easy game. The Wildcats are 10-2 on the season after having made short work of a darned good Southeast Missouri State team in the playoffs, beating them by a score of 48-23. This team has a killer defense and some good skill position players. They’re ranked second overall for a reason.

Regardless of how this next game plays out, this season is already an unqualified success for the Black Bears. They went from eighth seed in their conference at the beginning of the season to the seventh seed in the entirety of FCS football by the end. No matter what else happens, this squad promises to be one of the most memorable in UMaine’s storied football history.

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