Wednesday, April 23, 2014
ORONO -- For the first time all fall, bright sunshine bathed Alfond Stadium for a home football game.
The University of Maine responded in impressive fashion, rolling to a 51-7 Colonial Athletic Association victory over visiting Georgia State before a crowd of 2,979 Saturday afternoon.
It was the final appearance at Morse Field for 11 seniors introduced before the game with members of their families. Left tackle Josh Spearin of Limington appeared with his parents and his fiancee, then helped open the way to a 179-yard rushing performance by Rickey Stevens as Maine (4-6) racked up 594 yards of total offense and scored on nine of its 14 possessions.
"I think the emotion was a big part of it," Spearin said. "It was nice to walk out there with my family and just experience the game with all the other seniors I've essentially grown up with, at an older level. We've spent so much time together. They're brothers of mine."
The Black Bears scored on their first two drives of each half and led 31-0 before Georgia State (1-10) got on the board with a 12-yard touchdown pass in the final minute before intermission. Maine's defense intercepted four passes, two by free safety Jamal Clay and one each by linebacker Troy Eastman and cornerback Kendall James.
"We really wanted to send the seniors out on a high note," said Clay, whose 10 tackles led the team for the second game in a row. "We wanted to win, win big and also we wanted to get the first win at home. So whatever play we were trying to make, we had in the back of our head that we were doing it for them."
Junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski threw for 262 yards and four touchdowns, one each to senior Maurice McDonald (17 yards on Maine's first possession), Nigel Jones (a screen he broke for 76 yards), Damarr Aultmann (a 69-yard bomb) and Justin Perillo (a 24-yard strike threaded through double coverage).
Wasilewski also ran for 77 yards on 10 carries and set the tone with a 46-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.
Freshman Sean Decloux was 3-for-4 on field goal attempts, connecting from 41 (against the wind), 20 and 18 yards and missing from 36. He was perfect on six PAT attempts. Stevens and Jones (76 yards rushing) each ran for touchdowns from inside the 10.
"I thought we played hard throughout the game," University of Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. "Except for the (nine) penalties, there's not a lot to lament."
The Black Bears wrap up their season next Saturday at winless Rhode Island. Georgia State is off next week, so the distinguished 20-year coaching career of former NFL center Bill Curry -- who played in Super Bowl I for Vince Lombardi -- came to an end Saturday.
Before the coin toss, Maine paid homage to Curry and Wasilewski presented him with a pair of L.L. Bean boots.
"That was really a lovely thing to do," Curry said. "Certainly not necessary, but deeply appreciated."
Aside from two brief speaking engagements in Portland, this weekend marked Curry's first visit to Maine. When he awoke Saturday morning to brilliant sunshine and crisp autumn air, he told his team, "Welcome to Green Bay, Wisconsin."
("I didn't tell them," he said with a wry smile, "that this was a nice day in June in Green Bay.")
After coaching at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky, Curry agreed to help start the Georgia State program, now in its third year of competition and bound next year for the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"We expected to finish the season well and simply didn't get ourselves ready," Curry said. "I really thought we would play well (Saturday). That didn't mean we would beat this Maine team. When they've played at their best, they're a really good football team.
"But we didn't test them to find out if they had to play their best (Saturday), because we played so poorly."
Maine's defense held the Panthers to 59 yards rushing and forced eight punts. Only twice did Georgia State penetrate Maine's 40.
"We had great respect for Georgia State coming in here," Cosgrove said. "Anytime, as a young person, you have an opportunity to be part of legendary coach's last game, I think that adds some emotion and juice to the event."
The game was delayed for more than 15 minutes in the first quarter while medical personnel attended to Georgia State left tackle John Ulrick, hit with a knee below his rib cage. He was placed on a gurney and wheeled into an ambulance.
"He was in a lot of pain," Curry said. "The last word I got was that he was feeling better, but we still don't know what it is."