ORONO — Drew Belcher went from under the radar to understudy to under center, all in three months.

On Saturday, the University of Maine’s freshman quarterback will be under pressure like never before when he steps onto the Alfond Stadium turf for his first showdown with New Hampshire, the nation’s No. 1 team in Football Championship Subdivision and the No. 1 rival of the Black Bears.

“It’s mostly excitement,” Belcher said of his debut in the Brice-Cowell Musket rivalry. “We’ve got a lot of great seniors on the team. For a younger guy like me, it’s important to send them out the right way.”

That would be with Maine’s first win in this 105-game-old series since 2010. But it’s an important step in Belcher’s maturation as well.

The Black Bears (5-5, 4-3 Colonial Athletic Association) have won three consecutive games with the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Belcher starting at quarterback. The true freshman from Reading, Massachusetts, arrived on campus in August with the expectation that he would battle for the starting job left vacant by the graduation of Marcus Wasilewski, but there were three players in front of him. Redshirt sophomore Dan Collins won the spot, but Belcher impressed his coaches so much that he was named the backup and started seeing game action in Week 3 against Boston College.

When Collins went out with a shoulder injury in Maine’s sixth game, Belcher took over. He has taken every snap at quarterback since, throwing for 648 yards and three touchdowns, but more impressively running for 298 and another score.


Last Saturday he had his best passing performance, with 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw his first two interceptions. It was a reminder that he’s still a rookie.

“I definitely have some freshman moments here and there. I still feel younger, but I still try to be a leader around the guys and show my confidence,” Belcher said.

“I think I’m making pretty good decisions with the ball.”

Belcher ran for 92 yards in each of the past two games, showing a ruggedness and a disregard for his own health at times. He admitted he needs to work on his sliding at the end of runs to avoid contact, and he was listed on the team’s injury report for the first time last week with a couple of bruises that he called minor.

He’s certainly impressed his teammates.

“He’s really growing up. He really is becoming a great leader for being as young as he is,” said senior fullback Carlton Charles. “I’m most impressed with the way, week to week, he’s been able to improve. Just his composure is what I’m really surprised with.”


Coach Jack Cosgrove appreciated how Belcher responded after his first pass of the Elon game was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Would the young player let that disrupt his entire afternoon?

“We just kept running our offense,” Cosgrove said after Belcher immediately led a 73-yard touchdown drive. “That was a real good sign from the kid, to move on from a bad situation.”

New Hampshire (9-1, 7-0) will try to harass Belcher like never before. The Wildcats are experts at disguising blitzes. Belcher has been adept at avoiding sacks, but may have to live with a few of those instead of making rash decisions that turn into interceptions.

Wildcats Coach Sean McDonnell said his team will need to be ready to contend with Belcher’s running and passing.

“They’re getting back to the Maine type of football,” he said. “He’s a big, strong, physical football player and he gives that added run-pass dimension that they have loved to do.”

New Hampshire averages 38.7 points per game and has the CAA’s top passing game. Junior quarterback Sean Goldrich, back from an injury, is the best in the league, Cosgrove said. So is wide receiver R.J. Harris, who has 74 catches for 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns.


Maine has already faced high-scoring Villanova and Richmond at home. This will be his defense’s biggest test, Cosgrove said.

“They do more than anybody better than anybody,” he said of New Hampshire. “As well as we think we’ve played at times and as aggressive as we’ve been, this is the premier team we’ll see.”

The Black Bear defense has been solid all year, and terrific in recent weeks. They are second in the league against the pass and third in points allowed at 21.4 per game. They have generated eight turnovers in the past two games.

“We put a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make decisions. We’ve got the personnel to do that,” said linebacker Randy Samuels, who had an interception and a forced fumble in those victories.

Last season Maine had wrapped up the CAA title before losing its regular-season finale at New Hampshire, 24-3. Two weeks later, the Wildcats knocked Maine out of the NCAA playoffs with a 41-27 win in Orono.

“We’re ready for New Hampshire,” Samuels said. “Right now, they’re No. 1. But in the back of our heads, we remember what happened last year.”

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