Maine’s Earnest Edwards, left and Jaquan Blair give coach Joe Harasymiak a gatorade shower as the clock runs out against Jacksonville State on Saturday in Orono.

ORONO — When Jacksonville State flat-out refused to kickoff to Earnest Edwards, the University of Maine junior wide receiver knew he’d have to beat the Gamecocks in other ways.

“Usually teams kick to me at least once a game, but then try to kick it to somebody else,” Edwards said. “Jacksonville didn’t give me a chance at all. That was part of their game plan.”

Edwards was an integral piece of Maine’s offensive explosion in the first half of Saturday’s 55-27 win over Jacksonville State in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Edwards caught touchdown passes of 41 and 4 yards in the first quarter, and added a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Edwards’ reputation as a kick returner extraodinaire is well-deserved. After seeing highlights of Edwards return a pair of kickoffs for touchdown’s in Maine’s regular season finale win over Elon, the third and fourth kick returns for a touchdown of his career, Jacksonville State head coach John Grass knew he couldn’t allow the same thing to happen to his Gamecocks. When it came time to kick, Jacksonville left it high and short every time, avoiding kicking it deep to Edwards at the expense of giving Maine slightly better field position to start each drive.

“I think he’s a game changer. I think you have to keep the ball away from him. I thought we did a good job of that,” Grass said of Edwards. “We weren’t going to kick the ball to him on kickoff. We weren’t going to let him beat us in the open field. He’s got great speed, and dangerous in the open field for sure.”

Preventing Edwards from doing his thing in the flow of Maine’s offense proved to be tougher for the Gamecocks.

Edwards’ first touchdown came with 5:28 to play in the first quarter. Edwards sprinted down the left sideline, getting a step on the Jacksonville State defender in single coverage. Quarterback Chris Ferguson hit Edwards in stride for a 41-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 Black Bears lead.

“That was like bread and butter (Ferguson) put it right where it needed to be, and I just created some separation,” Edwards said.

Edwards second touchdown, a few minutes later with 1:47 left in the first quarter, was a little more dramatic. On fourth down and one from the Gamecocks 4, Edwards lined up in the backfield. At the snap, he swung out to the left, taking a Ferguson pass at about the 3-yard line. It appeared as if Edwards slowed down a split second, before dashing to the front left corner of the end zone. Edward dove, reaching the pylon for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

Recalling the play, after the game, Edwards became a little sheepish, admitting his flair for the dramatic overtook him on the play.

“I probably didn’t need to stretch for the pylon. I just put a little sauce into it, try to make it look better and get the fans into it,” Edwards said. “It’s part of my game, get everybody involved and not just the team.”

In the preseason, Maine head coach Joe Harasymiak said the plan was to get Edwards, who in his first two seasons with the Black Bears was more of a special teams player than an every down weapon, more involved with the offense. That was achieved. Edwards led the Black Bears with 43 catches for 673 yards and seven receiving touchdowns in the regular season.

“We had three or four seniors last year who left, and it was my time to step up,” Edwards said.

Saturday’s game was an extension of that. Edwards had three catches for a team-high 49 yards, and Ferguson spread the ball to seven receivers.

“I think we have one of the best wide receiver corps in the nation. I believe that. I think anybody you put against them, they’re going to make plays. They’re going to get open,” Ferguson said.

Edwards had 33 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown in the regular season. His running score in the second quarter of Saturday’s game will go down as a 1-yard carry, but, really Edwards ran close to 20 yards to find the end zone. The play came on first and goal, and was designed to go to the left. When that was bottled up, Edwards stopped, cut right, and sprinted to the end zone ahead of the Jacksonville State defense. The score gave Maine a 35-14 lead with 10:18 left in the first half.

“I see a bunch of people to my left. I only had one blocker, so I had to try and reverse it and make a play and that’s what happened,” Edwards said.

As for watching every kickoff go for a fair catch at least 20 yards in front of him, Edwards shrugged it off. He knows it’s probably going to happen quite a bit.

“It’s frustrating,” Edwards said, “but if they’re going to give us extra yard, I’ll take it every day.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.