BOONE, N.C. — Chris Howley and the Maine offensive line knew when the defining moment arrived.

Ahead by six, second half, on the road against an Appalachian State program with three not too distant national titles, and it was fourth-and-1.

The Black Bears responded, giving senior Pushaun Brown a crease and watching him churn for extra yardage. One snap later, senior Warren Smith threw his third touchdown pass and Maine was comfortably on its way to a 34-12 victory in the second round of the NCAA football playoffs.

Maine visits third-seeded and No. 2-ranked Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals.

Saturday afternoon’s second-round battle with the Southern Conference heavyweight was all Maine all afternoon. The Kidd Brewer Stadium crowd of 15,291 saw the No. 13-ranked Bears bring their signature sledgehammer to the sideline before the game and deliver blow after blow between the first and last whistles.

“It means a lot to the program, our alumni and especially our players,” Smith said of the win. “Coming off a 4-7 season last year, we knew we had a lot to fix but we knew there was a lot out there for us. The overall togetherness of this football team is so great.”

It was evident throughout, particularly when head coach Jack Cosgrove decided the fourth-and-1 at the ASU 32 was the time to go for it.

“We figured we had to get it to keep the game going,” Howley said. “We made the calls up front and clogged it up.”

The Bears ran to the right, behind Howley, senior tackle Steve Shea and sophomore tight end Justin Perillo. One play later, Perillo — who devastated the hosts with catches underneath in the first half — came left in motion and Smith hooked up with sophomore John Ebeling on a backside post route for a 20-6 cushion.

“That was a key play, and I thought we had him stopped,” ASU head coach Jerry Moore said of fourth down. “He kept driving his feet, and driving his feet, and he made it by 2 or 3 yards.”

Maine held the eighth-ranked Mountaineers to a three-and-out the next series, then got a 54-yard touchdown run by freshman David Hood on first down to extend the lead to 27-6.

When Maine forced another three-and-out, the Bears had achieved six on ASU’s nine possessions, and owned a 385-118 advantage in yardage — having driven for 124 in the third quarter alone.

“We had the bye week and had some extra time to prepare for them,” said junior Troy Russell, who led the Bears with nine tackles and a sack. “We got a feel for them. Coach did a great job of calling the game and putting us in the right position.”

Appalachian was limited to 3 rushing yards, 275 total yards and was 0-for-7 on third down conversions after intermission. Heralded ASU wide receiver Brian Quick had seven catches but was never a game-changing factor.

“We knew he was a great player and we would have to stop him to stop their offense,” Russell said.

Smith finished 17-for-26 for 250 yards with three touchdowns. Freshman Damarr Aultman had two TDs among his five catches for 117 yards, and Perillo and freshman Arthur Williams each had four catches.

Brown spun and darted for 111 yards on 24 carries, scoring the final TD on a 31-yard jaunt with 9:30 to go.

“It’s a reward,” Smith said of the victory. “And, we’re not satisfied yet. We won’t be satisfied until, you know, we all know what happens.”

Next stop Statesboro, Ga.


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