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FCS/CAA Playoff Preview: Black Bears Look to Crack ‘The Rock’

By Kevin Noonan  Published: 29th November 2011

Maine at Appalachian State

Saturday, Dec. 3 at Kidd Brewer Stadium; 2 p.m. on ESPN3.
Last meeting: Maine, 14-13 in 2002 FCS playoffs.
Last games: Maine lost to New Hampshire 30-27; Appalachian State beat Elon 28-24.
Series: Maine leads 1-0.

By KEVIN NOONAN

The Maine football team will be playing in front of a very large and very loud crowd against a very good team led by a very good coach who has already won three national championships, and the Black Bears will have to travel a long way to do it.

It’s a daunting task as No. 13 Maine takes on No. 9 Appalachian State in the second round of the FCS playoffs – both teams had a first-round bye – at Kidd Brewer Stadium, better known to locals simply as “The Rock.” It seats more than 21,000, although ASU averages about 29,000 per game, counting standing room.

Oh yeah, something else about the place – the Mountaineers have won 61 of their last 65 games at The Rock.

Still, Maine has something in their favor – it’s their conference. The CAA is universally recognized as the toughest league in the FCS and even though that tends to grind CAA teams down during the regular season, it toughens them up for the postseason.

“I made that point to our team the other night,’’ Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “Certainly it’s the nature of a Maine football student-athlete to be in awe of some of the schools [in the FCS playoffs]. Appalachian State and Georgia State and Montana – these are fairly regular guests in the playoffs.”

“So what we talked about is what the conference does for us, the competitive nature of the CAA every week. There are 16 teams left [in the playoffs] and five are from our conference and that really prepares you for this. It hardens you and toughens you and prepares you for the tournament.”

Appalachian State had an unbelievable run when they won back-to-back-to-back national titles from 2005-07. And in that run they ran into CAA teams several times. They beat Massachusetts in the 2006 championship game and in 2007 they ran right through the CAA in the playoffs, defeating James Madison and Richmond before beating QB Joe Flacco and Delaware in the championship game.

Maine has played the Mountaineers just once in the playoffs and beat them 14-13 in an opening-round game in 2002. But that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away and most of the players who take the field on Saturday were in grade school back then.

ASU sophomore QB Jamal Jackson has taken the Mountaineers offense to another level.

Appalachian State is led by sophomore QB Jamal Jackson, who started the season on the bench behind senior DeAndre Presley before winning the starting job. Jackson has completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 1,729 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s protected by a line that allowed just 14 sacks all season. Anchoring that line is tackle Orry Frye, a first-team All-Southern Conference selection.

The Mountaineers’ ground game is led by senior RB Travaris Cadet, who has rushed for 706 yards this season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

But it’s their passing game that makes the Mountaineers go, especially when the passes are headed in the direction of 6-5, 220-pound senior Brian Quick, another first-team all-conference selection after he caught 64 passes for 1,055 yards and scored 11 TDs.

“He’s a great player and we’ve got to be aware of where he is on the field at all times,’’ Maine senior defensive back Trevor Coston said. “He won’t be an easy person to cover.”

In fact, Coston said the entire Appalachian State is tough to defend because of the talent at their skill positions.

“They get the ball to athletes in space and let them try to make something happen,’’ Coston said. “And when you have an athlete who can catch and run after the catch, it’s pretty hard to defend. You have to be able to tackle in space and take great angles.”

Black Bears QB Warren Smith and the Maine offense must protect the ball, as uncharacteristic turnovers plagued the team down the stretch.

On defense, Appalachian State is led by junior linemen Jeremy Kimbrough (93 tackles, four sacks and 11.5 tackles for losses) and Brandon Grier (84 tackles, two sacks) and junior linebacker Demetrious McCray (five interceptions).

Maine will counter with a senior-heavy team that’s led by QB Warren Smith, RB Pushaun Brown and Coston. And Smith has plenty of targets – the Black Bears have five receivers with 28 or more receptions: Mauri McDonald (58 catches), TE Justin Perillo (45), WR Derek Session (33), Arthur Williams (28) and Damarr Aultman (28).

Now they all have one goal, to roll at The Rock.

“It’s a great atmosphere we’re going into, and we recognize that,’’ Coston said. “It’s something we want to enjoy. We want to go down there and compete and we want to get where they are. So, we’ve got to go down there and make a statement.”



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