Both programs are looking to making history when the Maine Black Bears visit Weber State on Friday night will be televised on ESPN2. Kickoff is at 8pm ET. With a win, the Black Bears would advance to the FCS semifinals for the first time. The University of Maine’s Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal playoff game against Weber State. Each school is looking for its first-ever trip to the national semifinals.
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As always the Black Bears are going to try to establish the run first with Ramon Jefferson (884 yards, seven touchdowns) and Joe Fitzpatrick (438 yards, three TDs). They’ve averaged 166.5 rushing yards over the last four games, with Jefferson averaging 97.5. QB Chris Ferguson is going to take his shots downfield to Earnest Edwards, Micah Wright, Jaquan Blair, Devin Young and Andre Miller. Tight end Drew Belcher could also play a key role in the passing game in the intermediate routes. Ferguson has to be careful because Weber State prefers to play man-to-man but often switches to a three-deep zone defense and disguises it well. If Ferguson reads the defense right, he has receivers who will get open.
Much like Maine, the Wildcats love to establish the run. They average 152.3 rushing yards per game and won’t be deterred by Maine’s national defensive ranking (second) against the run. Redshirt freshman Josh Davis leads the way with 1,350 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. But the Wildcats got a huge boost last week from senior Treshawn Garrett, who returned after missing three games with a hamstring injury and gained 134 yards. QB Jake Constantine is coming off a four-touchdown pass performance last week. The Wildcats have been led this season by Rashid Shaheed, who caught 36 passes with five touchdowns, and Darryl Denby, who caught 31 with six touchdowns.
Maine (9-3) is the tournament’s No. 7 seed after winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship by squeaking past No. 17 Elon 27-26 to close the regular season. The Black Bears won an FBS road game at Western Kentucky while losing to Central Michigan, Yale and William & Mary.
The Black Bears make a 2,100-mile flight to Ogden after defeating Jacksonville State 55-27 at home in the second round, forcing the Gamecocks into three early turnovers and capitalizing for a big win in the cold.
That defense allows 21.6 points per game (Weber State allows 21.0). Weber’s rushing attack of Josh Davis and Treshawn Garrett will have tough sledding; Maine allows just 74.5 ground yards per contest, second-best in the country, and 295.3 per game overall.
Chris Ferguson leads a Maine passing game with similar production as Weber State’s: Ferguson completes 58 percent of his passes for 188 yards per game; Constantine completes 64 percent of his passes for 176 yards per game.
Maine has the balance on both sides of the ball to knock off Weber State. A win this week sets up a return trip out west next week to either Davis, California or Cheney, Washington. Their road probably goes no farther than the semifinal.
QB Chris Ferguson eliminated any concerns about his ailing shoulder early in the second round win over Jacksonville State. Before the game had even gotten out of the first quarter, Ferguson had three touchdown passes and the Black Bears jumped out to a 21-0 lead that would shrink to seven before growing to as much as 28. Ferguson only threw the ball 26 times but he threw five touchdowns and did not turn the ball over. If he plays as efficient this week, the Black Bears will be in good position to pull the upset.
RB Ramon Jefferson carried the load for the Black Bears offense on the ground last week. With 26 carries and 186 yards and two touchdowns, Jefferson led the offense to just under 34 minutes of possession. In a tough environment against a tough defense, it will again be on the Freshman Jefferson to carry the load. He should be near 25 carries and 100 yards with a touchdown this week against a tough opponent.
These teams are fairly evenly matched. Last year, the Wildcats bowed out against the CAA champion at this point in the season. When this game gets tight late, the Wildcats have the home field advantage that will give them the win.