Delaware’s DeJoun Lee rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries – and returned the opening kickoff for another TD – in the Blue Hens’ 37-0 rout of UMaine on Saturday in Newark, Delaware. Ronnie Gillis photo

The University of Maine looked like a football team that hadn’t played in 469 days.

The Black Bears had a truly nightmarish afternoon Saturday in Newark, Delaware, losing 37-0 to Delaware in the opener of its six-game Colonial Athletic Association spring season.

“That’s probably one of the toughest losses of my career,” UMaine Coach Nick Charlton said in a Zoom conference with reporters. “Unfortunately it starts and ends with me as head coach. We weren’t prepared enough to win this game. Delaware is a good football team … but at  the end of the day we played poorly across the board.”

Surely there will be some positive things that come out of watching the game film, but Saturday’s performance was epic in its misery for the Black Bears, who hadn’t been shut out since a 31-0 defeat at Villanova on Oct. 7, 2017.

The Black Bears had only six first downs, didn’t advance into Delaware territory until the fourth quarter, gained just 112 total yards, committed seven penalties for 71 yards and converted only 2 of 14 third-down plays.

“That was the worst offensive output I’ve been involved with,” said Charlton. “That’s my responsibility. We all share blame in this, but it all falls on me.”

Maine gave up 370 yards, including 224 on the ground. And special teams? Well, for a former special teams coordinator like Charlton, it was a mess. Delaware’s DeJoun Lee returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown, and Maine senior Andre Miller muffed two punts in the fourth quarter – both recovered by Delaware. In addition, the Black Bears had several penalties on special teams.

“We just didn’t play well enough and that starts with me,” said Charlton. “It took a lot to get to this point, just to play this game. At the end of the day, we’re better than what we put on the field today. And we’ve got to play better next week against Albany.”

It did take a lot to just get to this point. The coronavirus pandemic first wiped out Maine’s offseason training program when the school shut down a year ago, then wiped out the Colonial Athletic Association’s fall season.

While teams were able to practice in the fall, it wasn’t the same. And this spring season is truly unique, a first for all the CAA teams.

Through it all, through all the COVID-19 safety protocols and all the testing, the Black Bears have persevered. They have not had one player test positive yet, something that UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph finds remarkable.

“That’s amazing with that big of a team,” he said the other day. “They’ve made a lot of sacrifices. This is not a normal year for those guys and they took it seriously. It’s a real credit to what they can do as a team.”

That’s one reason why Saturday’s loss was so disappointing. It started with the opening kickoff, which Lee caught at the 13 before cutting to his right and racing untouched down the sideline.

Maine’s offense converted its first third-down play when Joe Fagnano (10 for 23, 61 yards) threw a 14-yard pass to Miller. But the Black Bears had little success after that. They punted five times in the first half, which ended with Delaware ahead 17-0.

The offense wasn’t any better in the second half, and the defense, on the field for 75 plays and 38 minutes and 14 seconds, simply couldn’t come up with enough stops.

Of course, little about this game was normal. The stands at Delaware Stadium were empty, save for about 250 family members of Blue Hens players and a socially distanced school band in the end zone. The sideline boxes were extended to the 15 to help players and coaches socially distance.

Maine senior linebacker Deshawn Stevens, returning after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in his right leg in the 2019 season opener, said he really didn’t notice the atmosphere, or lack of  it, once the game started. It was just football.

Stevens said he wasn’t going to dwell on the loss. Mistakes were made, and now the Black Bears have to learn from them. Charlton liked the energy level of the team, which he said never dropped.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters,” said Stevens, who was second on Maine with 10 tackles. “We came out with intensity and aggressiveness. I’m excited to see how we respond.”


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