LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – A Maine team that’s picked to finish fourth in the North Division of the Atlantic 10 Conference was disappointed with its loss at Nebraska but optimistic about the rest of the season.

The Division I-AA Black Bears lost 25-7 on Saturday night but were within eight points with 10 minutes left on the road against one of the most hallowed programs in college football.

“There is a buzz about what this team can do this year,” quarterback Ron Whitcomb said. “Something special is going on, and we’re excited.”

Like Nebraska, Maine is coming off hard times. The Black Bears were 4-6 against I-AA competition last season – but they did win at I-A Mississippi State.

Maine’s roster includes 31 newcomers, and there were 11 other players who didn’t practice in the spring because of injuries or surgeries.

Coach Jack Cosgrove said the Nebraska game would be a good way to establish an identity. He liked what he saw so much that in the fourth quarter, he said, he thought he was reliving last year’s upset of Mississippi State.

Though Cosgrove gushed in showing respect for the Huskers in the days leading to the game, he said he thought it was a game his team could win.

“Somebody told me we were coming out here for an opportunity and experience,” Cosgrove said. “What the hell is that? We didn’t come here to run through a tunnel. We came here to win.”

The Black Bears stayed close largely because of five Nebraska turnovers. But their undersized offensive line couldn’t hold off a Cornhusker pass rush that tied a school record with 11 sacks.

The sacks accounted for 69 yards in losses and were responsible for the Black Bears’ net rushing total of minus-6 yards. Montell Owens picked up 30 yards on eight carries, and Jerron Pearson broke the longest run of 15 yards.

Forced into obvious passing situations, Whitcomb was easy prey for the Huskers’ front seven. Still, he completed 15-of-32 attempts for 149 yards and a 52-yard touchdown. He was intercepted once.

He split time with Chris Legree, who was 1-of-4 for 2 yards and served mostly as a running threat. He had 17 yards on 17 carries.

The going figures to get easier with Saturday’s home opener against William Penn, an NAIA school from Oskaloosa, Iowa.

But Maine’s players will always remember Nebraska.

“We feel like this was a win we could have come away with,” receiver Kevin McMahan said. “We’re going to take the positives from this game and move on to the next.”

AP-ES-09-04-05 1548EDT

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