By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Things started poorly for Maine when Jordan Waxman knocked the opening kickoff out-of-bounds. This was a recurring theme for CAA teams last week and not a good omen for the Black Bears chances. The last thing you want to do is give an offensive machine like Georgia Southern a short field.
The Eagles quickly took advantage as Jaybo Shaw scored from 2 yards out for a 7-0 lead. When Warren Smith was intercepted on a deep pass on Maine's second offensive play, Georgia Southern ran 13 straight plays to cover the 79 yards for a 14-0 lead. It was about as bad a beginning as the visitors from Orono could have hoped for, but anyone who thought Jack Cosgrove's charges would go quietly were much mistaken.
That was evident immediately as Billy Greer returned the kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 deficit. The Eagles looked like they were poised to respond after converting on 4th and 1 at the Maine 44, but the Black Bears defense stiffened and got a stop on the next series of downs at their own 35. Three plays later, Smith hit Damarr Aultman for 47 yards to the GSU 9-yard line and the underdogs looked ready to tie things up. However, after Smith picked up 7 yards on first down, two runs from Pushaun Brown failed to cross the goal line and Maine settled for a 21 yard field goal and a 14-10 score.
I've always been a believer that you don't beat great offenses with field goals, but I wasn't surprised coach Cosgrove took the points that early in the game.
However, Georgia Southern showed why those concerns were warranted as they marched 67 yards in 9 plays with JJ Wilcox finishing up from 7 yards out for his second score of the first half and the Eagles took a 21-10 lead to the locker room.
Maine made it clear they weren't going quietly as Smith ran for 16 yards and threw for 49 more on a 72 yard scoring drive to start the second half. When Smith hit Justin Perillo for a 12-yard touchdown strike, the Black Bears were back in the game at 21-7. Unfortunately, Wilcox went 36 yards on the Eagles first play from scrimmage and Shaw scored his second touchdown soon after to put the margin back to two scores at 28-17.
Just as with the Old Dominion game last week, every time either CAA team got close, the Georgia Southern offense responded with a score. Ultimately, that's what great teams do.
The shift in momentum was cemented as Smith was intercepted three plays later and then Shaw hit Kentrellis Flowers for a 25-yard touchdown pass and it was quickly a 35-17 ballgame.
It had taken less than five minutes for the game to swing away from Maine, but the senior leadership of the Black Bears wouldn't let them fold and they quickly came back as Smith threw for 72 of 80 yards on a 6 plays drive that ended with John Ebelling hauling in the 3-yard touchdown pass. However, coach Cosgrove made the odd decision to go for two and when Chris Treister's run failed, the deficit was 12 points at 35-23.
The game got choppy from there out, but Maine was unable to take advantage. The defense ended the next Eagle drive at the Maine 14 when Shaw fumbled. Smith moved the Bears into GSU territory but turned the ball over on downs as a completion to Aultman fell short of the first down mark at the Eagle 42-yard line.
Adrian Mora missed a 31-yard field goal on the next drive but Georgia Southern still managed to take more than seven minutes off the clock on the 11 play drive.
Maine again drove deep into Eagle territory, stalled at the 17-yard line. If the Black Bears had not gone for two and trailed 35-24, they could have kicked a field goal to get within one score at 35-27, but because the deficit was 35-23, they had to go for it on 4th-and-11. When Smith's pass fell incomplete, the visitors chances were all but gone. Maine got the ball back one more time inside of three minutes, but Smith was intercepted for the third time and the Eagles ran out the clock.
Maine clearly belonged on the field with the #3 seed in the FCS playoffs, but the early 14-0 hole was too deep to climb out of. Poor field position on kickoffs, three interceptions, a turnover on downs and an ill-advised two point conversion attempt all added up to too many mistakes to pull off the upset.
Just as in 2002, the Black Bears failed to pull off the second part of the Southern Conference two-step and head back to Orono as a disappointed squad but one with much to be proud of. This will be a strikingly different team next year with the departure of Warren Smith and Pushaun Brown among others, but there will be a time and a place to discuss that.
For now, we say goodbye to a CAA season that ends earlier than any in many years. For the first time since 2005, there won't be a CAA team in the semifinals and no team in the finals for the first time since 2006. It was a season of typical CAA excitement but one that lacked a quality of play at the top of the conference that kept any team from advancing to the final four.
Stay tuned for the recap of the entire season and a look towards 2012.
As always, any comments, questions, thoughts and holiday cheer are welcome at CAAToday@yahoo.com.