November has been an unkind month to the University of Maine football team the last two years.

The Black Bears are 1-5 the last two Novembers under Joe Harasymiak, including gut-wrenching, last-second losses in the final game each year, to New Hampshire in 2016 and Stony Brook in 2017.

Harasymiak, in his third year as head coach, believes the Black Bears are in good position to reverse their November fortunes.

“There’s the experience factor – we have a lot of guys who have played in those games,” said Harasymiak, mentioning the names of just about every returning starter from the last two years. “I think we’ve spent a lot of time working on the mentality we need to have to finish strong. We did a lot of stuff in the offseason and during the season to get to this point.

“And having a great defense helps.”

November looms as another big month for the 23rd-ranked Black Bears, who are 5-3 and in a four-way tie for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association with a 4-1 league mark. Saturday, they play at 15th-ranked Towson, which is 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the CAA.

“In terms of implications … this is the biggest game I’ve been part of in my career,” said fifth-year senior tight end Drew Belcher. “We’re playing at a ranked team, for their Homecoming, for first place. It should be a great atmosphere.”

Belcher and senior safety Jeff DeVaughn said this team has a different attitude from those of the last two years. “It started in the offseason, in the summer,” said Belcher. “People were calling out each other if they were slacking off or showing up late. It didn’t matter who, guys were holding each other accountable.”

Maine has been resilient, coming back from 21 points down to beat Western Kentucky on the road and then putting together back-to-back two-minute drives to beat Villanova and Rhode Island on last-second field goals by Kenny Doak.

“When things are not going our way, we don’t get down,” said DeVaughn. “We fight back. We have that next-play mentality.”

DeVaughn said the failures of past Novembers taught this year’s team some valuable lessons.

“You’ve got to fail in life to succeed in life,” he said. “We failed a lot the last two years and you learn from those mistakes; you’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Harasymiak agrees that the losses Maine has suffered the last two Novembers – three resulting from fourth-quarter collapses – have strengthened the team.

“You learn a lot about yourself responding to adversity and failure,” he said. “Before you make it in life, you’ve got to go through bumps in the road. This team, we’ve been changing the culture. We’ve seen some things change already this season, bringing back the Musket (in beating New Hampshire for the first time since 2010), beating Villanova, winning an FBS game (Western Kentucky).”

The constant this year has been Maine’s dominating defense, which is among the nation’s best in the Football Championship Subdivision. Maine leads the nation is run defense (60.4 yards per game), is second in total defense (248.4 yards) and 19th in scoring defense (21.1 points per game). The Black Bears face a Towson offense that has been nearly unstoppable. The Tigers, led by quarterback Tom Flacco (younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco), rank ninth in scoring (39.8 points per game) and 12th in total offense (481.9 yards per game).

“This will be our biggest test,” said Harasymiak. “We will be severely challenged.”

And the players know the remaining three games will determine whether Maine’s season continues in the playoffs.

“No matter what we’ve done to this point,” said Belcher, “it comes down to if we can win games in November.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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