The University of Maine football team, which a week ago was riding a wave of confidence and a three-game win streak, must now regroup.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears watched their momentum go down the drain, like the runoff from Saturday’s torrential rains, in a 3-0 Atlantic 10 loss at Rhode Island.
UMaine, which slipped from No. 15 to No. 22 in The Sports Network Division I-AA poll, sits at 5-3, 4-1 in conference play. The Bears have watched an already tough road to the postseason get flooded with more obstacles.
“We’ve been on a nice run in the conference,” Cosgrove said. “I thought our guys played hard. The elements, you know that old saying, they become a challenge. We did a lot of good things, but then we didn’t do some things at the end.”
The Bears entertain an improving Northeastern squad (3-5, 2-3 A-10) Saturday at noon at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
UMaine remains in the hunt for the A-10 championship and a I-AA playoff berth, but its wiggle room is gone. The Bears almost certainly must win their final three games to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“I told them that it doesn’t change anything in terms of goals,” Cosgrove said. “This is a tough conference, it’s a week-to-week conference, and we still have an opportunity where we can compete and maybe win a championship here. But we’ve got to get off this, stay together, get focused and get ready to play next weekend.”
The Bears are one game behind North Division leader Massachusetts (7-1, 5-0 A-10) and James Madison (7-1, 5-0 A-10) in the South in terms of the league race. UMaine travels to UMass for a key Nov. 11 game.
In terms of the playoffs, teams are not generally chosen for at-large bids if they have more than three losses. In the A-10 alone, UMass, JMU, New Hampshire (6-2), Towson (6-2) have fewer losses than UMaine.
Saturday’s setback featured another dominating performance by the UMaine defense, which gave up only a wind-aided 47-yard field goal and held Rhode Island to seven first downs and 135 total yards.
“They really didn’t do a lot offensively,” Cosgrove said. “They had a heck of a field goal with the wind. We did a great job on defense.”
However, the soaking rain, relentless winds of 25-40 mph and rapidly deteriorating field conditions further hampered a UMaine offense that has been doing just enough to win most of the season.
The Bears ran the ball well in spurts, netting 224 rushing yards, but were unable to make plays in key situations. UMaine was 5-for-15 on third down and 0-for-5 on fourth down.
The Bears got inside the URI 32-yard line five times and came up empty.
“We’d get the start of something then, all of a sudden, it was third down, fourth down and we weren’t making plays,” Cosgrove said. “When the time came for that big play to be made, they [Rhode Island] were the ones that made it.”
Because of the conditions, which made it almost impossible to throw the ball, UMaine wound up vastly reducing its offensive repertoire. The Bears used their two or three primary inside run plays with limited success.
Their best chances came in the third quarter while going against the wind. UMaine put together back-to-back drives of 52 yards and 54 yards that took them to the URI 28 and 26, respectively. One ended with an interception and the other with a fumble.
“Both teams had to play through [the conditions], so we had to make adjustments and we just didn’t finish on offense,” said senior quarterback Ron Whitcomb.
The Bears’ other scoring opportunity and their deepest penetration of the game, was an unsuccessful 25-yard field-goal try by Devin McNeill in the first quarter.
Maine women play UNB tonight
The UMaine women’s basketball team faces its first outside competition tonight with a 7:30 exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick at Alfond Arena.
Coach Ann McInerney’s Bears will be a bit shorthanded, as senior co-captain Ashley Underwood of Benton remains sidelined with an injury.
Underwood, who averaged 13.3 points and shot 82 percent from the foul line last season, has just received medical clearance to return to practice.
“She’s the heart and soul of our team,” McInerney said. “We do miss her and we definitely will miss her on the defensive end of things.”
McInerney said Underwood might see action in Sunday’s exhibition against Assumption.
UMaine’s second-year coach said the Bears hope to find out more about their capabilities against the Varsity Reds.
“I think it comes at a great time to try and see what we’re all about,” said McInerney, who will start two freshmen in point guard Abby Greene and shooting guard Amanda Tewksbury. “It’s an opportunity to work through some combinations, work out some bugs.”
McInerney expects UNB to be in better sync because it has played four games.
“They’re scrappy, they’re aggressive,” she said. “They’ll possess some defensive matchups that will be tough for us.”