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UMaine football defeats Weber State 23-18

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UMaine football defeats Weber State 23-18 (Matt Herp/Standard-Examiner via AP)

The 2018 Black Bears are boldly going where no UMaine football team has gone before – the FCS semifinals.

They are doing so courtesy of a 23-18 victory over Weber State. The seventh-ranked Black Bears took down the second-ranked Wildcats, thanks in large part to a phenomenal defensive effort and a few opportunistic plays by the offense. The win means that they’ll be heading to the West Coast for another showdown, this time on the red turf (also known as “The Inferno”) of the Eastern Washington Eagles in Cheney, Washington.

The Black Bears won their seventh game in a row with this one; it also marked their seventh consecutive victory when facing a ranked opponent. This UMaine team is one that has no fear and believes that it can play with any team in the country – because they can.

That was certainly the case with Weber State, an excellent team that was handled quite efficiently by the Black Bears.

It was the nigh-legendary Black Hole defense that carried the day with this win. The Black Bears forced four turnovers overall, with a pair of interceptions by Jeff DeVaughn and one each from Manny Patterson and Jaron Grayer. The team managed 13 tackles for a loss, led by the sterling work of Sterling Sheffield, who had three of those TFLs and a sack among his six tackles.

Oh, and the Bears held Weber State to -1 yards rushing. No, that isn’t a typo – UMaine held the Wildcats to negative yardage on the ground for the game. This was a force of nature-type performance by the Maine D, one that no team could have withstood. Even the relative closeness of the score is deceptive – Weber State scored their final touchdown with no time left on the clock.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all the credit goes to the defense. While preventing scoring is a big part of the game, you still have to put points on the board to win. But UMaine proved up to it, finding ways to break off some big plays and find the end zone.

The biggest play was probably the first one after halftime. Maine held a 7-3 lead early in the third when QB Chris Ferguson found Earnest Edwards on a short route; Electric Ernie dropped a move on the defense and scampered 67 yards to paydirt. And then, we had Ramon Jefferson’s magnificent 45-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the score that essentially sealed the game for the Black Bears, although Kenny Doak’s 46-yard field goal a few minutes later was what really put the game away.

Offensively, the Bears put forward a balanced attack, with 170 yards through the air and 116 on the ground; while 286 total yards might not seem like a lot, against a defense as accomplished as Weber State’s, it’s quite something. Ferguson threw a pair of touchdown passes among his 15 completions, five of which went to tight end Drew Belcher; Jefferson led the ground attack with 88 yards on 15 carries.

It’s been a hell of a ride for these Black Bears – a ride that’s not over yet.

They’ll face off against an Eastern Washington team that has lost just twice all season. The Eagles are led offensively by QB Eric Barriere and RB Sam McPherson, defensively by Ketner Kupp and Jay-Tee Tiuli. They have not lost a game on their home turf all season.

This won’t be an easy contest for Maine, but really, this is a team whose entire season has been built on the back of adversity. They are playing as well as any UMaine football team has ever played and they’re doing it at exactly the right time. At this point, it’s pretty hard to deny that the Black Bears are a team of destiny. All that remains to be seen is just where that destiny leads. Does the journey end on the red turf of Roos Stadium? Or does it end in Frisco, Texas – site of the FCS championship game – on January 5?

Tough to say, but be warned – you bet against this Black Bears team at your peril.


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