ORONO — In half a dozen other football outposts of the Colonial Athletic Association, attention is focused on the 16 potential tie-breaking scenarios to determine a league champion should Towson beat New Hampshire in Saturday’s regular-season finale.
Not so in Orono, where chances of a return to the NCAA playoffs have long since disappeared from view.
Even so, Maine’s swan song against winless Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon will hold special meaning for the eight seniors suiting up for their last collegiate contest.
“You want to play well your last game,” said cornerback Darlos James. “You want to try and make it the best you’ve ever played, the game that you remember.”
At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, James is among the smallest players at Maine. Pound for pound, coach Jack Cosgrove said, James is also the one of the toughest.
That became clear during the offseason, when Cosgrove and his coaches were cutting up film for use as a demonstration to the team on how best to set an edge on defense.
“Darlos is the guy we were using as the example,” Cosgrove said. “Not the linebackers. Not the defensive ends. But Darlos James.”
Setting an edge means you prevent an offense from running wide and reaching the sideline to turn upfield.
“Teams want to try to get the edge and get outside,” Cosgrove said. “You need somebody to say, ‘No. Come back inside where all my teammates are.’ “
That skill isn’t confined to large packages. Cosgrove mentioned former cornerbacks Manauris Arias and Devon Goree, both of them shorter than James, and both of them all-conference players.
“We’ve never been hung up by height or things like that if the ability is there,” Cosgrove said. “Darlos is cut out of that same mold. Very tough. Sets the edge. Makes the tackle. Defends the pass.”
James is seventh on the team in tackles with 44, more than half of them of the solo variety. Maine’s other cornerback, Kendall James — they’re often jokingly referred to as The James Brothers, although they’re not related and bear not even a passing resemblance — has 42 tackles. Kendall has three interceptions and Darlos two.
They arrived in Orono at the same time, the fall of 2009, but Kendall was red-shirted and so has another year of eligibility. Darlos played right away, getting in 10 games as a true freshman and starting three.
“I always had the confidence that I could play anywhere,” said James, a business management major who grew up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., and played cornerback and wide receiver at Iona Prep. “I was just determined. I wanted to play my true freshman year. Playing true freshman year is a symbolic way of saying you’re one of the best freshmen in your class.”
A victory Saturday would give Maine a 4-4 conference record, consecutive victories for the first time all season and a 3-1 record in its final four games.
Despite Rhode Island’s lack of success this fall, Cosgrove has been reminding his team of the Rams’ recent success in Kingston, where they have beaten five ranked opponents in the past two seasons, including a Villanova squad ranked third in the country and a No. 5 New Hampshire.
“That, to me, indicated them being a team that draws some strength from being at home,” Cosgrove said. “You need to inform your team about those things.”
The other seven seniors suiting up for the last time as Black Bears: linebacker Donte Dennis, wide receiver Maurice McDonald, linebacker Troy Russell, linebacker Doug Alston, guard Chris Howley, center Garret Williamson and tackle Josh Spearin.
Injuries earlier this season sidelined four other seniors: kicker Brian Harvey, defensive back Mike Kuhn, fullback Sam Shipley and defensive lineman Kris Enslen.
Three other seniors — all defensive linemen whose careers ended because of injuries — did not play at all this year: Spencer Wood, Craig Capella and Brent Rice.
“They’re solid young men,” Cosgrove said. “They’ve carried themselves well, represented their families and this program very well. You wish you could say we won more football games, but in the five years (most of them) were here, we went to two playoffs (2008 and 2011). That’s a huge positive.”
Notes: Stevens, who started the year third on Maine’s depth chart, is the CAA Offensive Player of the Week. Freshman tailback Nigel Jones, fourth on the depth chart coming out of training camp, is the CAA Rookie of the Week. They are the first Black Bears to be honored on offense this season. Defensive end Michael Cole was the only other Maine player to be so recognized, for his five sacks and a forced fumble in a 26-3 victory over Delaware. ?Shipley, a converted linebacker who carries a 3.91 grade point average in a double major of nursing and Spanish, was named to the District I All-Academic Team.