University of Maine wide receiver Andre Miller leads the Colonial Athletic Association in receptions (19), receiving yards (309), touchdown catches (six) and receiving yards per game (103.0) this spring. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In football terms, the area of the field between the 20-yard line and the end zone is called the red zone.

At the University of Maine, however, senior wide receiver Andre Miller said, “We like to call it the green zone.”

Green as in money. Green as in cashing in.

And no one has cashed in better than the Black Bears the last couple of games. In wins over Albany and Stony Brook, Maine is a perfect 9 for 9 in the red zone, scoring eight touchdowns and a field goal. The Black Bears are one of 12 Football Championship Subdivision teams in the nation that are perfect in that category this spring, and they rank first in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“You know, that’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until after the game, when you check the stats,” said Andrew Dresner, the offensive coordinator at Maine. “But that’s one of the things we stressed coming into the season. The very first (video) slide we showed this year said, ‘We must score inside the 20.’ And we’ve done it.”

Sophomore quarterback Joe Fagnano and Miller, the co-captain from Old Town, are at the center of this success. Fagnano, who has been honored as CAA offensive player of the week each of the last two weeks, has two touchdown runs and has thrown eight touchdown passes, six to Miller.


“We always want to get points on the board,” said Fagnano. “We always want to end in touchdowns. We’ll take the field goal if we have to, but we want to score on each drive.”

The red zone was a point of emphasis for the Black Bears this year. In 2019, they were ranked sixth in the CAA, scoring on 35 of their 44 trips (79.5 percent) into the red zone. That included 26 touchdowns and nine field goals.

“In my time here, we’ve really stressed that,” said Nick Charlton, in his second season as Maine’s head coach. “And it was one of our big offseason things. We needed to be better. And we are. There’s still room to improve, but I think we’re playing better situational football.”

Maine quarterback Joe Fagnano threw four touchdown passes and rushed for another in each of the last two games. Ronald Gillis photo

The coaches and players spend the week reviewing film, looking for matchups to exploit in the red zone and then drawing up plays designed to score. Then they spend much of Thursday’s practice working on their red zone offense.

“That’s our favorite day of practice,” said Fagnano. “That’s when we get to score points.”

“The red zone is really a whole new game for us,” said Dresner. “So we game plan for plays from the 20, and it’s like it’s a totally different game.”


They have plays for the fringe of the red zone (around the 20) to the low red zone (inside the 10) to the goal line (inside the 5). “There’s an entire section of the call sheet just for that,” said Charlton.

And then they work on each play in practice, over and over and over, until they get it right.

“That (practice) is everything,” said Miller. “When they draw up a play and we go out and execute it to a ‘T,’ that’s the best feeling in the world.”

The season didn’t start well for the Black Bears in a 37-0 shutout loss at Delaware in which Maine never even reached the red zone. Maine had only 112 yards of offense and ran just 47 plays.

Since then, the Black Bears have averaged 36.5 points, 396.5 yards and 67 plays per game. They’ve gone 12 for 28 (43 percent) in third-down conversions after going only 2 for 14 in the opener.

The difference, said Charlton, is the red zone. “The guys are making the plays,” he said. “We’ve been very efficient.”


Dresner said it’s all about the players. Not just Fagnano and Miller, but everyone on the offense. Jacob Hennie and Shawn Bowman have the other touchdown catches in the red zone, and the offensive line has played extremely well.

“The players make it easier,” said Dresner. “All those guys have different skill sets. And the more ways you can threaten somebody, especially in that tight area, the more success you’re going to have. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Miller calls the offense a “Swiss army knife of weapons. We have a lot of ways to get points on the board.”

Fagnano and Miller have stood out. Fagnano leads the CAA with his eight touchdown passes and is second in passing yards per game (186.7) and passing efficiency (147.5) and fourth in total offense (211.3 yards per game). Miller leads the CAA in catches (19), receiving yards (309), touchdown catches (six) and receiving yards per game (103.0).

The two worked out when they could in the offseason, though Miller said that was hard because COVID-19 restrictions kept both of them off campus for much of the summer.

“When we were able to come back and able to get out on the field, we did,” he said. “Along with a bunch of the wideouts. We were all out there.”

He said the connection they formed is very strong. “I just feel each week it’s getting better and better, and not just between us but with the whole offense,” said Miller. “It seems each week we’re piecing it together better and better. And we still can get better. That’s the scary part.”

Fagnano said the two connected easily. “Dre is one of the hardest working guys I know, first to practice, last to leave,” he said. “He always wants to get in extra catches. And when I was a freshman coming in, he always wanted to get in the work with me. It wasn’t too hard getting that connection.”

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