Maine’s Earnest Edwards stretches for the goal line as he scores a touchdown against New Hampshire on Thursday. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)
ORONO — The University of Maine ended eight years of frustration Thursday night, opening its season with an impressive 35-7 victory over nationally ranked rival New Hampshire at Alfond Stadium.
The Black Bears had lost eight consecutive games to the Wildcats and 15 of the last 16. But Maine dominated the Wildcats defensively — holding New Hampshire to minus-7 rushing yards and sacking the quarterback six times — and showcased its many offensive talents.
Maine, which last beat New Hampshire in 2010, put up 450 yards in total offense while holding the Wildcats to 116. New Hampshire lost senior quarterback Trevor Knight, the preseason Colonial Athletic Association offensive player of the year, to a right shoulder injury early in the second quarter.
Maine sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson completed 21 of 31 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Earnest Edwards scored two touchdowns, one on a 17-yard run, the other on an 11-yard pass. Joe Fitzpatrick rushed for 78 yards and a 14-yard touchdown. Ramon Jefferson rushed for 74 yards. Micah Wright caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
And tight end Drew Belcher, who lost the quarterback battle to Ferguson a year ago, threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Jaquan Blair, and also caught a team-high five passes for 34 yards.
All in all, it was a near-perfect offensive night for Maine.
Defensively, linebacker Sterling Sheffield set the tone with two 10-yard sacks in the first quarter.
It was scoreless after one, but Maine put up 22 points in the second quarter.
Wright scored the first one, a 6-yard pass from Ferguson to complete an 88-yard drive. The Black Bears scored a safety when the fourth-down snap on a punt from the 36 went all the way into the end zone, where it was recovered by the punter.
Edwards then scored two touchdowns, the second one, an 11-yard pass from Chris Ferguson, completing an eight-play, 99-yard drive with 10 seconds left in the first half. Ramon Jefferson had a 49-yard run on a draw play to set up the touchdown, which came on a one-handed, back-shoulder catch by Edwards at the front of the left end zone pylon.
The Wildcats were ranked seventh and ninth in the nation in the two Football Championship Subdivision polls.
NOTES: The Black Bears held a moment of silence in memory of Darius Minor, the 18-year-old freshman defensive back who died from a rare heart condition during a workout July 24. Maine ran a montage of photos of Minor on its scoreboard throughout the pregame warmups. In addition, Maine’s helmets bear a decal with his number (39). Eighteen members of Minor’s family attended the game, driving up from Virgina. Five of them were on the field for the moment of silence and, when it was over, Black Bears coach Joe Harasymiak went over and hugged each one. “The family is staying together,” said Rob Otey, a cousin from Locust Grove, Virgina. “As you can tell, we travel in numbers. We want to represent Bubby (Minor’s nickname) as he deserves. He deserved nothing but the best and that’s why we came here to honor here and to be here for him.” Otey said the family has appreciated everything that the university has done for it since the tragedy. … New Hampshire was without junior wide receiver Malik Love, who has a hamstring injury. Love was the Wildcats’ second-leading receiver last year with 70 catches, including five for 96 yards and a touchdown in last years’ 24-23 UNH win. … Edwards was ejected from the game in the third quarter when he received his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.