BANGOR — The University of Maine went from being considered preseason afterthoughts to one of the nation’s best football teams this fall.

That point was clearly made Sunday when the Black Bears learned they received a first-round bye in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Watching the nationally broadcast selection show at the Sea Dog Brewing Company, a large gathering of Maine coaches, players, family members and friends cheered loudly when it was announced that Maine had received the No. 7 seed in the 24-team tournament.

The top eight seeds receive first-round byes in the tournament, which ends with the national championship game Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.

The Black Bears will play at noon Dec. 1 in Orono against the winner of the Jacksonville State-East Tennessee State first-round game Saturday.

It will mark the first NCAA football playoff appearance for Maine since 2013, when it was seeded fifth.

“This is literally everything myself and this team has wanted, especially the seniors, since we’ve been here,” said senior wide receiver Micah Wright. “When we arrived the team was coming off a (Colonial Athletic Association) championship. And to be able to do it in our last year, with all the ups and downs we’ve had here, it’s the epitome of hard work and dedication.”

Maine won the league championship Saturday with a 27-26 win over Elon. That gave the Black Bears a 7-1 record in the CAA, 8-3 overall.

A record six CAA teams qualified for the tournament. Maine, predicted to finish eighth in the league’s preseason poll, was the only one to get a bye.

“I think we’re happy with the seven seed,” said senior tight end Drew Belcher. “I think we got a little bit of respect that we deserved, being the CAA champs. I think we deserve that bye, we deserve the home game. We’re happy.”

The bye week will be very important for the Black Bears, especially sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson. On Saturday, he reaggravated a right shoulder injury he originally hurt Sept. 22 and reinjured two weeks ago, and was forced out of the game in the second quarter. Maine’s offense sputtered the rest of the way.

“We were hoping for that bye week, obviously,” said Ferguson. “I think it will be good for all of us, give us another week to prepare and some time off, and obviously some time to rest for (his shoulder).”

He added, “I’ll be all right. With time to rest and some physical therapy I’ll be good for next Saturday.”

Coach Joe Harasymiak said the bye week is certainly helpful in Ferguson’s recovery and he expected Ferguson to be ready to play Dec. 1.

“I think everyone knew we were going to need the bye to get him straightened out, and guys like (Charles) Mitchell, and for the entire team,” said Harasymiak.

Mitchell, a sturdy junior defensive tackle, suffered a high ankle sprain Saturday. Also, junior running back Joe Fitzpatrick dressed but didn’t play while recovering from a variety of injuries. He said Sunday he’ll be fine.

Harasymiak also stressed that the bye week will be beneficial mentally. The team will practice Monday and Tuesday, then break up so players and staff can go home for Thanksgiving. Players will return Saturday and begin preparing for their playoff game next Sunday.

“The biggest thing is from the mental side we get a little break, and these guys get to go home and see their families, which they haven’t done since August,” said Harasymiak.

“Getting to go home, being a normal human for a bit, being able to spend time with your family, that’s really important.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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