Husson University freshman free safety Ace Curry of Lewiston has helped the Eagles reach the NCAA Division III playoffs despite being away from the game for two seasons. (Submitted photo)

Husson University is in the NCAA Division III Football Championship tournament for the third consecutive year and fourth in the last five, and former Lewiston High School star Ace Curry is a big reason why.

The unranked Eagles (8-2) are 7-1 since Curry, a freshman who had been away from the game for two years, entered the starting lineup and will face 23rd-ranked Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at noon on Saturday in Troy, New York. 

Husson allowed an East Coast Football Conference low 14.5 points per game this season and boasts the No. 4 rush defense in the nation.

Playing free safety in Husson’s man-free coverage scheme means Curry has to be a safety valve to protect against deep passes but also a reliable alley filler in the run defense. 

Head coach Gabby Price said Curry does all of the things a free safety needs to do in Husson’s defense.

“He’s around the ball a lot, which the position allows him to be, and he’s done a good job in pass coverage,” Price said. “He has to cover a larger area than most defensive backs in our defense. But he’s smart, he’s very instinctive and has good speed.”

“He’s solidified our defense, and we’ve played well since (he entered the starting lineup),” Price added.

Curry is the team’s second-leading tackler despite missing a game. He has two interceptions and a 30-yard fumble recovery and return for a touchdown. 

In the Eagles’ season finale, Curry forced two fumbles and recorded a game-high 11 tackles in a 21-10 win over Plymouth State.

“As a defense, we always want to get the ball back for our offense, so any time you can get an opportunity, you want to cash in,” Curry said.

Curry cashed in on his opportunities coming off the bench early in the season and garnered his first starting nod in Week 3 against Western New England. He finished second on the team in tackles in a 31-28 loss.

“Really, it’s just my teammates have welcomed me in and made me feel comfortable,” he said. “They have high expectations of everyone, and I don’t want to let them down, and they don’t want to let me down.”

That loss to Western New England was the Eagles’ final setback of the regular season. They’ve won seven in a row, thanks in part to an improving defense that has allowed 10 points over the past three games as Husson clinched its third consecutive ECFC title. 

While his responsibilities are vast in defensive coordinator Grant Caserta’s scheme, Curry said the rest of the defense gives him plenty of reasons to feel confident in it.

“We have a great mixture of speed and size,” Curry said. “The line has a lot of strength and puts a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, so that makes the DB’s jobs easier. And I think our linebackers are the best in the conference.”

Curry did a little bit of everything for Lewiston after transferring from Edward Little before his sophomore season. He was a three-year starter at defensive back and moved around among wide receiver, quarterback and running back for the offense. In 2015, he represented the Blue Devils at the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl.

Husson recruited Curry while he was at Lewiston and kept the lines of communication open over the past two seasons. Curry spent a year in the Army Reserves and a year in the working world before enrolling at Husson.

Curry dreams of coaching high school and college football, so the school’s sports management program intrigued him, as did the idea of resuming his playing career after a two-year hiatus from the field. 

The ease with which Curry has adapted to Husson and that his teammates have adopted him made Husson worth the wait.

“We have a great freshman class that’s come in. Everyone works hard and it just seems like I couldn’t find a better fit than here,” he said.

“He has a great attitude,” Price said. “I’ve never seen him down. He’s very low-maintenance and a very positive person.”

Having played for Bill County at Lewiston, Curry is enjoying the experience of playing for Price and seeing another side of coaching. 

“They’re both very different but very intelligent coaches,” he said. “Everything just moves so much faster at this level. It’s been a very good learning experience.”

He added to that experience by sitting in on one of the offense’s team meetings alongside his former Lewiston teammate Quintarian Brown, a junior special teams ace and wide receiver for the Eagles. 

“I’ve had a lot of help from ‘Q,'” Curry said. “It’s pretty fun to see two Lewiston guys, one on offense and one on defense, during practice lining up opposite each other.”

The long list of local talent on the Eagles’ roster also includes two more Blue Devils, Garrett Poussard and Sean O’Donnell, as well as Oxford Hills’ Dawson Stevens, Jarrod Taylor and Jason Paradis; Tim Albert of Leavitt; Jared Brown of Mt. Blue; Oak Hill’s Darryn Bailey and Austin Pierce; Aaron Paradis of Poland and Lisbon’s Tyler Halls.

Despite upsetting 19th-ranked Springfield College in the first round and earning the first playoff victory in program history last year, Husson has never been ranked in the national DIII polls this season and is considered an underdog against the Engineers.

“We don’t think that way, even if the polls do,” Curry said. “We’re going in there with the attitude of, ‘Why not us?'”