By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — At the end of the regular season, Maine was a tired, worn-out team that looked nothing like the squad that had soared to an 8-1 start and had pushed BCS Pittsburgh to the limit in an early-season contest.
But a little rest and relaxation worked wonders for the Black Bears, who returned to form for a stunning 34-12 victory over Appalachian State Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championships before 15,291 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Senior quarterback Warren Smith hit on 17-of-26 passes for 250 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception.
Pushaun Brown and David Hood combined for 199 rushing yards and the Black Bear defense limited ASU to just three yards on the ground and 275 yards of total offense.
Maine threw ASU sophomore quarterback Jamal Jackson for 31 yards in losses on three sacks and the Black Bears had eight tackles for loss, totaling 43 yards lost for the Mountaineers.
The win vaults Maine (9-3) into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, when the Black Bears met Georgia Southern, the team that UM will face again next weekend in Statesboro, GA.
Ironically, Maine won its first-round game against Appalachian State, 14-13, that year before suffering a 31-7 loss to Georgia Southern.
No. 3-seeded Georgia Southern (10-2) stopped Old Dominion (10-3) 55-48 in a wild second-round shootout at Paulson Stadium.
The game will be played on either Friday, or Saturday, with NCAA officials to announce the time and date on Sunday.
“We got a gift, we had a bye” said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove, who worried his hard-working team would have to play a first-round game after back-to-back losses to Towson and New Hampshire to close the regular season cost the Bears the Colonial Athletic Association title. “I am excited for the win, I feel real good for these guys.”
It took Maine just four plays to strike when Smith hit Damarr Aultman with a 44-yard pass along the ASU sideline. Mountaineer cornerback Rodger Walker picked a disastrous time to pull a groin on the play as Aultman scorched him for the first of two long TD receptions for the speedy receiver in the first half.
Just a play before Walker came up lame, ASU safety Patrick Blalock exited the game with a hamstring injury, putting more strain on the depleted Mountaineer secondary.
Aultman (five catches for 117 yards) struck again on a 35-yard post pattern with under five minutes to play in the second quarter after Appalachian State had cut Maine’s lead to 7-6 on a 20-yard scoring aerial between Jamal Jackson and Andrew Peacock.
ASU’s Patrick Blalock blocked a Brian Harvey field goal from 20 yards, Maine’s Michael Cole deflected a Drew Stewart extra point off the right upright and Gordy Witte of the Mountaineers swatted away a Harvey PAT to leave the score at 13-6 in the Black Bears’ favor at the half.
Two more quick strikes from Maine in the third period, one on a 21-yard connection between Smith and John Ebeling and another on a 54-yard burst from Hood expanded the Black Bears’ lead to 27-6 midway through the quarter.
“We got ourselves into a mess,” said ASU coach Jerry Moore. “We got behind and you’ve got to catch up and you’ve got to catch up in a hurry.”
ASU showed some fight when Travaris Cadet smashed in from a yard out to cut the lead to 27-12 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But then the Mountaineers lost momentum when Stewart kicked an extra point, only to have the kick negated by an offsides penalty on Maine that blew the play dead. Stewart’s next kick sailed wide left.
From there, Appalachian State drove into Maine territory on the next three possessions, but Jackson (26-of-45 for 272 yards passing) fumbled after the Mountaineers had moved to the Bear six and was intercepted twice.
After recovering from a 21-point deficit, the biggest comeback in ASU’s Division I history in the final regular-season game against Elon, Moore said he believed his team could pull another rabbit out of its’ hat against Maine.
“I thought we could win it in the third quarter,” Moore explained. “We had to score 21 points to tie and I thought we could. Of course, we had to shut them out.”
Which the Mountaineers couldn’t do.
A 31-yard scoring blast by Brown and a Harvey point-after completed the scoring for Maine after the first interception with 9:30 remaining.
“It means a lot to our program,” Smith said of the win. “Coming off a 4-7 season last year, we knew we had a lot to fix.”
Maine’s iron-clad secondary was particularly brilliant, breaking up seven passes to go with two interceptions.
Brian Quick, expected to be the top FCS player chosen in the 2012 NFL draft and thought to be a potential first-round selection in some NFL quarters, set the career record for receptions at ASU with seven catches for 41 yards, his total of 202 grabs breaking DaVon Fowlkes’ mark from 2001-04 of 200.
Quick was forced out of bounds on two long, negated receptions that could have led to scores and showed his frustration in the fourth period when he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that killed a drive after tossing a ball away after dropping a first-down catch.
We obviously knew (Quick) was a real good player and we had to stop him,” said linebacker Troy Russell, who led the Bears with nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Maine’s defense obviously gained the attention of the Mountaineers, particularly the secondary.
“I thought going into the game, their secondary was probably the best secondary we had seen,” said Moore.
And after witnessing what Maine did to the Mountaineer passing attack?
“There was no question in my mind they were the best tackling secondary and the most aggressive secondary we’ve seen all year,” Moore added.
And now Maine moves on to the quarterfinals.
“This is a reward for all that we did,” Smith said of the off-season work that springboarded this year’s success. “We aren’t satisfied yet and we won’t be satisfied until we win a championship.”
In other games on a wild playoff Saturday, No. 1 seed Sam Houston State (12-0) held off Stony Brook’s upset bid 34-27 when Tim Flanders (102 yards rushing) scored from seven yards out to cap a 10-play, 83-yard drive with a minute to play.
Brian Bell threw for 161 yards and two TDs, including a key 80-yard scoring toss to Trey Diller in a wild fourth quarter as the teams combined for 34 points. Stony Brook finished at 9-4.
Sam Houston State hosts Montana State (10-2), which beat New Hampshire (8-4) 26-25 at home when Mike McArthur’s extra point bounced off the right upright with six seconds left.
Kevin Decker lofted a 29-yard TD pass to Justin Mello to pull the Wildcats into position to tie the game and force overtime.
The dependable McArthur had only missed one PAT all year before having one fail against Maine in the regular-season finale after a bad snap. This miss was his third of the year.
DeNarius McGhee scampered for two touchdowns on the ground and threw for a third to lead the Bobcat offense.
No. 5 Northern Iowa (10-2) snuck by Wofford (8-4) 28-21 at home on the strength of two Tirrell Rennie touchdown passes, but a mistake when a Wofford kick returner dropped the ball in the end zone on a kickoff return and Phil Wright fell on it for a touchdown.
The Panthers scored 14 points on two plays to take a 28-14 lead, but the Terriers came back behind the play of quarterback Mitch Allen, who ran for 162 yards in Wofford’s wingbone option attack.
The Terriers held a 478-238 advantage in total offense, but were killed by three costly turnovers.
Northern Iowa must now travel to No. 4 Montana (10-2), which crushed Central Arkansas (9-4) 41-14 at home in a game that was pretty over after the Grizzlies took a 31-0 halftime lead.
Jordan Johnson (16-of-25, 135 yards) tossed two touchdown passes to Jabin Sambrano and Jordan Canada rushed for two other scores.
No. 2 North Dakota State (11-1) outlasted James Madison (8-5) 26-14 at home behind 154 yards on the ground from D.J. McNorton. McNorton broke the game open with a 60-yard scoring sprint in the fourth quarter.
Justin Thorpe threw for 182 yards for JMU, tossing one TD pass and scoring on a 35-yard option pass from receiver Kerby Long to make it 19-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
McNorton’s TD came on the next play from scrimmage. Ryan Jastrum added two field goals of 53 and 44 yards for the Bison.
NDSU will now host Lehigh (11-1), which stunned CAA champion Towson (9-3) 40-38 on the road.
Towson led 38-31 in the fourth quarter after Grant Enders hit Gerard Sheppard for a 52-yard TD strike, but quarterback Chris Lum (36-of-48, 351 yards, one TD) brought the Mountain Hawks back with a sneak from the one to tie it.
Tom Bianchi sacked Enders for a nine-yard loss in the end zone on a naked bootleg play with five minutes left and Lehigh ran the rest of the clock out to preserve the win.
There was little defense in Georgia Southern’s win over Old Dominion. Fullback Dominique Swope rumbled 76 yards for one score and added another on the way to rushing for 255 yards on 31 carries.
Eagle QB Jaybo Shaw was 7-of-11 passing for 130 yards and a TD and added 37 yards and two more scores on the ground as GSU rolled up 607 yards of total offense with its triple option.
Freshman signal-caller Taylor Heinicke was 25-of-44 for 341 yards and five TDs as the Monarchs piled up 560 yards. Heinicke also added 75 yards on seven rushing attempts.
But after the two teams matched scores for most of the first three quarters, the Eagles scored twice in a row to take a 55-41 lead in the fourth period.