Defensive lineman Skylar Bowman, 59, shown during Maine’s playoff victory over Jacksonville State last December, says intrasquad practices “definitely gets each of us better. I feel there’s a good correlation when it comes to the season. We always complement each other.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ORONO — In a University of Maine football scrimmage Wednesday, Chris Ferguson threw two touchdown passes to Andre Miller while the defense made its share of big plays, including a fumble recovery. Players from both side barked at each other after big hits or elusive moves.

With the Aug. 30 season opener against Sacred Heart looming, that’s exactly what first-year head coach Nick Charlton hoped to see.

“Any time you’re in training camp and one side just dominates every single day, that’s not a good thing,” he said. “I think we have a lot of give and take here where one day it’s the offense, one day it’s the defense, one day it’s both. I think that’s important.

“I expect to see a lot of things from both sides, and some days it’s not what it needs to be. Most days it is … It’s important that it’s competitive. That’s the big thing.”

Every day in practice, Maine’s offense is pushed by a defense that is regarded as one of the best in the Football Championship Subdivision. Every day, the defense is pushed by an offense that has some of the most dynamic playmakers in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“It definitely gets each of us better,” said junior defensive lineman Skylar Bowman, who got in a couple big hits Wednesday. “I feel there’s a good correlation when it comes to the season. We always complement each other.”

Chris Mulvey, a junior starting his third season at center, said nothing can get the offense prepared better than going against Maine’s “Black Hole” defense. Maine led the nation in rushing defense last year and was in the top 10 in sacks, tackles for a loss, fumble recoveries and interceptions. Returners up front include two preseason STATS FCS All-America selections – lineman Kayon Whitaker (second team) and linebacker Deshawn Stevens (third team).

“They never take a rep off,” said Mulvey. “If I take a rep off, I get absolutely embarrassed. They’re some of the best players in the country on our defense, so going against them every day makes us better.”

During the scrimmage, running backs Emmanuel Reed and freshman Curtis Murray broke off a couple impressive runs, going into the middle, then making a quick cut to the outside. “If you can run against our defense,’ said Mulvey, “you can run against anyone.”

But it’s more than that. For Ferguson, the defense provides him with a puzzle to solve every play.

“They’re good at disguising stuff,” he said. “They run a good amount of different coverages. I’m always working … You’ve got to be on-point every day out here. If you slip up, they’re going to get you. One-on-one matchups, (Maine’s receivers) are going against top corners. You have to put the ball in the right place. If you don’t, the defense is going to make the play.”

It goes both ways. Senior cornerback Manny Patterson, named to the Buck Buchanan Watch List as one of the top 25 defensive players in FCS, said his game has gotten better by working daily against Maine’s receivers.

“You get a little bit of everything from everyone,” he said. “If you get to stick with great receivers every day in practice, you can’t do nothing but get better.”

Charles Mitchell, a senior defensive tackle, said working against Maine’s offensive line is not easy, either.

“They give us a great look at what we’re going to get in the season,” he said. “And they’re just getting better every day. It makes us work harder.”

That’s exactly what the coaching staff wants. Pat Denecke, Maine’s offensive line coach, said Wednesday’s scrimmage was the best the line has executed this camp.

“That’s the best defense we’re going to see all year,” he said. “We know how good those guys are. When you have bad days, you got to try to remember you’re going against a couple of all-Americans. But competition makes you better.”

NOTES: As expected, running back Joe Fitzpatrick (back) and wide receiver/kick returner Earnest Edwards (hamstring) did not participate in the scrimmage. Other injured players included linebacker Taji Lowe (shoulder), safety Jeremiah Dadeboe (ankle), defensive lineman Alejandro Oregon (elbow) and quarterback Ryan Walsh (hand). Running back Jordan Rowell, who injured his right knee in the first scrimmage, was also on the sidelines, sometimes using a crutch, other times limping. He will be reevaluated next week to determine how long he will be out.

Freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano was surprised by Charlton at the end of the scrimmage with the announcement that he has earned a full scholarship. “I was not expecting that at all,” he said after calling his parents. “I thought he was going to ask me to break it down. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know what to say.’” Fagnano, who is from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, added, “This means the world to me. It’s what you dream of.” Fagnano was on a partial scholarship. “He has a lot of that ‘It’ factor to him,” said Charlton. “He can make the throws, he can move, he can run, he’s willing to learn. Whenever he makes a mistake, he moves on from it.” Fagnano appears to have the inside track for the backup quarterback spot.

The playlist for the scrimmage included songs from the 1970s and 1980s. At one point, Mitchell and Patterson were dancing on the sideline to “Take On Me” by the band a-ha. “I like that song,” said Patterson. “I feel it’s got that up-tempo beat.”


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