ORONO — Few would have predicted how successful the University of Maine would be midway through its football season.

After being selected eighth in the preseason poll, the Black Bears are tied for first (with fellow upstart Towson) in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association with a 3-0 league mark, 4-2 overall.

With five games remaining, the Black Bears already have matched last season’s win total. They play Saturday at William & Mary (2-4. 1-2 CAA).

“We’ve certainly handled the beginning part of our schedule and in a way that gives us a great opportunity moving forward,” said UMaine Coach Joe Harasymiak. “I’m proud of the guys for that. Just got to keep going.”

That’s because there’s a lot of football left. And the Black Bears haven’t always responded well down the stretch. Under Harasymiak, they are 1-5 in the last two Novembers with some crushing losses that have derailed their seasons.

“We’ve just got to continue to raise the standard,” said Harasymiak. “We’ve talked about that as a team, that the standard here has really been .500 football the last two years. And to change that, and to raise the standard, you’ve got to do things differently. We’re just trying to come every day prepared mentally better and execute better in practice and take one game at a time.”

The Black Bears’ coaching staff has talked all season about finishing strong. And sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson, who returned last week after missing most of the last three games with a shoulder injury, said there is a noticeable difference in the way Maine closes things out this year.

Maine has won its last two games – 13-10 over Villanova and 38-36 over Rhode Island – with two-minute drills that have resulted in last-play, winning field goals by Kenny Doak, the first a 52-yarder, the second a 39-yarder.

“From watching our games (this year) you can see that we can finish,” Ferguson said. “We’re a different team with a different culture.”

To keep winning, he said the team has to continue to focus solely on its next opponent. “We’re doing everything in our power to be ready for Saturday as far as watching film, getting treatment, practicing full speed, making every rep as a game rep,” Ferguson said. “It’s what has got us to this point and we’ve got to continue doing it.”

Junior linebacker Taji Lowe, third on the team in tackles (31) and second in tackles for a loss (7.5), said four wins is not the goal.

“It’s about not getting too complacent … We want more and we’ve got to keep playing like that. We’ve got to keep playing hard and keeping doing what we do.”

DEFENSIVE END Kayon Whitaker was suspended by the CAA for the first half of Saturday’s game, according to Harasymiak.

Whitaker was ejected from last Saturday’s win over Rhode Island with 12:46 left in the second quarter after he got in an altercation with Rhode Island’s Kyle Murphy that involved punches. “It’s a league decision and I agree with it,” said Harasymiak. “If they didn’t give him anything we were going to suspend him anyway because what happened was unacceptable.”

Whitaker has 14 tackles and two sacks.

REDSHIRT FRESHMAN running back Ramon Jefferson (hamstring), center Chris Mulvey (right hand) and defensive linemen Alejandro Oregon (ankle), Jamehl Wiley (shoulder) and Andrew Stevens (hip) are all expected to play Saturday. Jefferson has missed the last two games, Oregon the last three and Stevens the last two. Mulvey and Wiley were injured last week.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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