Football: Huskies take beating against Black Bears

Football: Huskies take beating against Black Bears

By Chris Estrada

For the third time in four games, the Huskies encountered a nationally-ranked team coming off a loss as they entered Orono, Maine, to face No. 22 Maine Black Bears Saturday. But while Northeastern turned back Delaware and New Hampshire, Maine made sure the third time was not the charm.

The Black Bears racked up more than 400 yards of total offense, but their defense stole the show in a 30-3 mauling of the Huskies in front of 3,621 spectators at Alfond Stadium Saturday. Maine tallied five sacks, allowed just 36 net yards of team rushing and rendered Northeastern next to useless on third down (1-for-10).

“I’m not convinced that we were completely focused on what we needed to do to execute on offense, defense and special teams,” said head coach Rocky Hager. “Adversity showed itself to us and we didn’t handle it as well as we had in the previous three contests. It’s an indication that there’s still a bit of ‘young’ in our football team and we have to continue to grow and lead ourselves from those non-veteran types of responses.”

The Black Bears scored on their opening possession, propelled by a kickoff return to the Northeastern 43 yard line. Quarterback Ron Whitcomb connected with tight end Matthew Mulligan on a 28-yard pass to put them inside the Husky 5. The Black Bears got in for six when wide receiver Arel Gordon ran into the end zone from four yards out. Down 7-0 following the extra point, the Huskies took the ball to the Maine 31 on the ensuing drive, but a 15-yard dead ball penalty on second down forced Northeastern to call on freshman kicker Mat Johnson. The Iowa native nailed a career-long field goal of 42 yards to cut the lead to 7-3.

Sophomore linebacker Jason Vega created a major opportunity for Northeastern when he forced Gordon to fumble on the next drive, allowing junior linebacker A.J. Lillie to recover for the Huskies at the Maine 23. However, the drive fizzled inside the Black Bear 5 and Johnson’s 20-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

Gordon took over the second quarter for Maine. Despite getting tagged with a holding call on the previous play, Whitcomb connected for a 30-yard touchdown strike to Gordon on third-and-11 to put the Bears up 14-3 with 8:20 left in the second quarter.

Northeastern went three-and-out on the next possession, then the tandem of Whitcomb and Gordon responded again with a 73-yard touchdown connection to make it 21-3. Maine scored two touchdowns in the span of one minute and 46 seconds.

Maine got the ball at the start of the third quarter and made the most of a pair of back-to-back penalties by Northeastern that, combined with a 17-yard pass play, drove the ball from the Maine 43 to the Northeastern 12. Black Bear tailback Teron Allen would cap the drive with a five-yard touchdown run on third down to make it 28-3.

Northeastern attempted to get back on track midway through the third quarter. Powered by a 49-yard pass play from sophomore quarterback John Sperrazza to redshirt freshman receiver Tony Lott, the Huskies drove to the Maine 3, but once again saw their chances for points disappear. After two running attempts that made no gains, Sperrazza was picked off in the endzone by cornerback Andrew Downey, who returned it to the Maine 11.

As much as that killed Northeastern’s momentum, Hager pointed to an earlier point in the game more devastating to the Huskies.

“The play that was as damaging as any was the opening kickoff,” he said. “We were supposed to have a certain type of kick and we did not get that. We missed a tackle and, lo and behold, they’re across the 50 [yard line] in the first possession.

“We had chosen to have the wind at our back in hopes of creating field position and that did not work out. … Had we executed the way we did on our second kickoff … and created the turnover that we created on [Maine’s] first play from scrimmage in the second possession, who knows what the game would have been?”

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