ORONO — Well, it could have been worse.

Morse Field could have been Doak Campbell Stadium. St. Cloud State, unsung and underestimated and sacrificial lambs from the state of Jesse Ventura and Al Franken, could have been Florida State.

University of Maine football could have fallen forward into the teeth of the most ravenous Football Championship Subdivision conference schedule in the nation off a kick in the fanny from the forecasted fourth-best team in its Division II conference.

Like cosmic comeuppance for the indignity Maine dealt Mississippi State five autumns ago. Only MSU, dregs of the SEC, was supposed to STINK. The Black Bears were purportedly the No. 19 team in the nation prior to Thursday night’s dress rehearsal for 10 games that matter infinitely more.

The end result was a listless 34-27, overtime victory, borne mostly out of desperation and owed almost exclusively to its superior depth and athleticism.

Maine trailed early and trailed often. The Black Bears hibernated on the business end of the bottom line until quarterback Mike Brusko’s lovable disregard for his personal safety yielded several helmet-to-helmet first downs, and finally a 1-yard touchdown plunge with under two minutes remaining in regulation.

Knowing no better, St. Cloud State covered most of the FieldTurf without the good graces of a timeout. Junior flanker Fred Williams, who channeled Terrell Owens without the self-love for most of the night, was a frayed shoelace away from making the winning grab in the end zone at the end of regulation.

But the Huskies settled for a field goal and a 27-all deadlock, and Maine scored first before stopping St. Cloud inside the 10 to halt the sham otherwise known as college football’s version of overtime.

St. Cloud was equal parts Chuck Wepner and Jesse Ferguson; the heavyweight ushered to town on a week’s notice to give the WBC’s No. 5 contender a workout with a human hefty bag in order to keep him sharp and protect his ranking. The Huskies’ chief qualification likely was being on the athletic department’s speed dial as a fellow hockey school. They’ve been to the NCAA playoffs twice in 90 years of football.

They filled a date Maine initially reserved for a trip to Tallahassee. That was until Florida State craftily took advantage of the opportunity to meet Miami on Monday Night Football’s Labor Day open date and sent the Black Bears a fruit basket for their forbearance.

Thank you, gridiron gods.

Maine wasn’t remotely prepared for Florida State or Appalachian State. They weren’t fully ready for St. Cloud State. 

Plymouth State would’ve beaten the spread.

Speaking of the spread, Maine must get better at stopping the offense that shares its name, the one now orchestrated by every football program from the University of Florida to Freeport High School. Or it shall be a long season in the Colonial Athletic Association, cradle of Division I-AA champions.

Williams, whom we will safely assume would be a third receiver at best for Delaware, Richmond or New Hampshire, fingertipped 15 catches for 171 yards and a score. Those numbers were held in check by two pass interference penalties against Steven Barker, the poor guy inexplicably isolated one-on-one against Williams one or six too many times.

When Williams and Mitch Watkins weren’t playing toss-the-ball-in-the-bucket, Brandon Geiss (21 carries, 104 yards) enjoyed excess greenery between the tackles.

Oh, there’s good news. The seniors on Maine’s defense – most notably Jordan Stevens of Temple, Brandon McLaughlin and Mark Masterson — played like the grown men they are and approached this game as such.

Stevens had his mitts in a half-dozen tackles, shared in a quarterback sack, pounced on a fumble after strip-sack by McLaughlin, knocked down a pass and pressured Watkins into another incompletion.

Barker, a junior defensive back, had his moments of glory. Sophomore linebacker Donte Dennis was stellar. But Maine’s secondary must mature, pronto, if the postseason is to be even a gleam in the Black Bears’ eye.

Offensively, Maine desperately missed Lewiston’s Jared Turcotte (thigh injury) at fullback and senior wideout Landis Williams. Turcotte probably would have played if this were a conference game. Holding him out was still the right call. Not sure I’d say the same thing if Williams had dragged a foot inbounds to end the game prior to OT.

Derek Session (22 carries, 124 yards) took advantage of an evaporated St. Cloud defense in the second half and in the untimed segment. Brusko was Brusko, the consummate maestro in what was surely a harried huddle.

And the Black Bears better buy Dez Randall a steak dinner for his 80-yard kick return touchdown in the first half, easily forgotten three hours later but definitely the difference in the tenor of the game.

Otherwise, it was a series of hard lessons delivered with the subtlety of a Minnesota wind gust in January.

No Seminoles necessary.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


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