Maine football beats Elon to earn outright CAA title, playoff bye

first_imgBy Mike LowePortland Press HeraldORONO — Belief.That’s what Joe Harasymiak has been preaching to the University of Maine football team for a year. Belief in the team. Belief in what can be accomplished.This is placeholder textThis is placeholder textAnd Saturday afternoon, the Black Bears accomplished something no one foresaw four months ago. Picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll, Maine earned the outright conference title and a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with a 27-26 win over Elon at Alfond Stadium.The Black Bears needed one last defensive stand to clinch their first CAA title since 2013 and got it when linebacker Sterling Sheffield hit Elon quarterback Daniel Thompson as Thompson was throwing a fourth-down pass, forcing a fluttering incompletion with 58 seconds remaining that clinched the win.“I really can’t describe it,” said Harasymiak. “To be so close the last two years, being in November and not getting it done, being 1-5 — the same core group of guys coming back — you preach a message, and they’ve believed in it, and this is the result.”The victory lifted Maine to 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the CAA. Elon, playing for its playoff life, dropped to 6-4 and 4-3.Maine lost starting quarterback Chris Ferguson in the second quarter when he reinjured his right shoulder. But while the Black Bears’ offense struggled, special teams and defense carried them.Earnest Edwards broke two kickoff returns for touchdowns of 95 and 93 yards, and Kenny Doak kicked two field goals, the second set up by a blocked punt.Maine appeared to take control in the third quarter. After Skyler Davis of Elon kicked a 39-yard field goal to pull within 17-13, Edwards took the ensuing kickoff 93 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Daniel Rymer then blocked a punt, setting up Doak’s 19-yard field goal that made it 27-13 with 6 minutes, 22 seconds left in the period.But Thompson rallied the Phoenix.He threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Cole Taylor, after which he led drives resulting in two more Davis field goals. Elon then trailed 27-26 with 4:33 left in the game.The Phoenix had one last chance, getting the ball with 3:07 left at their 47. Jaron Grayer intercepted Thompson but fumbled on the return, and Elon recovered at its 39.The drive got to the Maine 42. But after two incomplete passes, the Phoenix faced a fourth-and-5 situation.Maine called a timeout with 1:03 left and changed its defense.“I thought using that timeout was important in terms of just gathering the guys together and giving them the call so we’re all on the same page,” said Harasymiak. “Ultimately, we made the right call.”Originally, the Black Bears were going to stunt their four defensive linemen, but they instead went with a speed rush. Sheffield came around the right tackle and hit Thompson’s arm as he threw, the ball fluttering incomplete.“Definitely one of the memorable plays of my career,” said Sheffield. “Just happy to help my team.”Black Bears given No. 7 seed in FCS playoffsMaine players gathered Sunday at Sea Dog Brewing Company in Bangor to watch the playoff selection show, and it didn’t take long for the team to learn it had received the No. 7 seed in the 24-team tournament.The Black Bears will play at noon next Saturday, Dec. 1, in Orono against the winner of the Jacksonville State vs. East Tennessee State first-round game to be played Saturday, Nov. 24.It will mark the first NCAA football playoff appearance for Maine since 2013, when it was seeded fifth.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *