ORONO — When Albany’s defense took away Maine’s short passing game and started blitzing at every opportunity, quarterback Drew Belcher lost his way Saturday.

It was his first start, and it showed.

“All of the things that got him elevated to that spot kind of indicated that he would be a little bit more aggressive,” Black Bear coach Jack Cosgrove said of his freshman. “I think it started to get away from him in terms of his trusting what he needed to be doing.”

Cosgrove was surprised to see his young quarterback hesitating in key moments, taking sacks instead of unleashing passes, as Albany defeated Maine 20-7.

Coach and pupil are back at it this week, preparing for a second start, this time at winless Rhode Island at noon Saturday.

Belcher conceded that his debut performance wasn’t what it should have been. He completed only 13 of 30 passes for 123 yards and lost a fumble that turned into an Albany touchdown.

But he also said his confidence remains high and that he’s looking forward to fixing any flaws this week in preparation for his first road start.

Belcher, starting for the rest of this season in place of the injured Dan Collins, began last Saturday’s game with two incomplete passes. But he found a rhythm on his second possession, utilizing quick throws out to the flanks to speedy wideout Arthur Williams. The second connection went 14 yards for a touchdown, the first of Belcher’s career.

“I was able to get the ball out to Artie and he obviously was able to do his thing. He can make guys miss,” Belcher said. “We have a lot of playmakers at wide receiver.”

But he never completed a pass to Williams again, nor tight end Jeremy Salmon. His next two completions were to Damarr Aultman near the line of scrimmage. Then he took the first of his five sacks on the afternoon. Soon, Albany was pressing Maine’s receivers, daring Belcher to attempt deeper throws. It never happened and Maine (2-5, 1-3 Colonial Athletic Association) was held scoreless in the second half for the fourth time this season.

Belcher also second-guessed himself for his fumble on the final play of the first quarter, when he attempted to run for a first down and lost grasp of the ball. Albany scored the tying touchdown on the play and grabbed momentum.

“I didn’t like my read downfield so obviously tried to get out of the pocket and run,” Belcher said. “I was kind of in between having the ball in position to throw and then getting it tucked away. I didn’t have it tucked away by contact.”

Cosgrove and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin have repeatedly praised Belcher’s ability to see his mistakes on film and quickly correct them. That will be tested like never before this week. He had been accustomed to splitting time with Collins, taking roughly one-third of the snaps in games. Now he’s being asked to go the distance, meaning he needs to adjust on the fly.

“I need to do a better job of getting us in the right protections and knowing when I need to get the ball out quicker. Not taking sacks on third down is definitely something I’m going to be working on this week,” Belcher said.

“I just need to do a better job of getting in the flow, trusting what I’m seeing, I wasn’t trying to force some things, but there were times in the game where I should have given our guys a shot to make a play down the field, I’ll be ready to go this week. Every week’s a new challenge. Each game is a learning experience.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH


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