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The best game on this weekend’s FCS menu? You could make a strong case that it will be played Saturday night at Alfond Stadium, where visiting Towson will battle Maine in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for each team.
Who: Towson (2-0) at Maine (1-1)
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Alfond Stadium; Orono, Maine
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The Black Bears and Tigers are both ranked among the top 10 teams in each major FCS poll, and it will be the first time two top-10 teams have met in Orono. Maine (1-1) is ranked seventh in the STATS FCS poll and ninth in the FCS Coaches’ Poll; Towson (2-0) is eighth in each poll.
Things should be extra interesting when each offense goes to the air. Not only are Maine’s Chris Ferguson and Towson’s Tom Flacco two of the best quarterbacks in the CAA, statistically the Black Bears and Tigers have the two best pass defenses in the conference. Maine is allowing an average of 83.5 passing yards per game, and Towson is allowing 97.0.
“I think that [Maine is] extremely talented,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “They’ve taken a very, very good defense from last year and somehow found a way to make it better. They’ve taken a very good offense and found a way to make it explosively better. They have veteran skill on offense and they have an incredible veteran, reloaded defense. This is one of the best football teams I’ve seen on film in a long time.”
Maine also leads the CAA in total offense (470.5 yards per game) and pass offense (369.0). The Black Bears are averaging 15.4 yards per completion.
Ferguson, a junior, is fifth among FCS quarterbacks in passing yards (709) and sixth in passing yards per game (354.5).
“He’s clearly got talent,” Ambrose said when he was asked about Ferguson. “He can spin it and put the ball where it needs to be. He’s got a talented group of guys to get it to, but now you’re seeing an anticipation in his footwork and throws that only comes with experience -- and he has a lot of it, so he’s going to be a threat for everybody to deal with. We just have to deal with him early in the year.”
Ferguson and the rest of the Maine offense will be facing a Towson defense that has been the stingiest in the CAA through two games (12.0 ppg). The Tigers own victories over The Citadel (28-21) and North Carolina Central (42-3).
Although the Black Bears have some gaudy passing statistics and are averaging 101.5 yards rushing per contest (11th in the CAA), Maine coach Nick Charlton said his team remains committed to moving the ball on the ground.
“We’re still trying to develop our identity running the football,” Charlton said. “Our identity is always, 'We have to run the football and be explosive in the passing game.' We’ve thrown it a little more, but we’re still committed to running the football up here.”
Flacco, the CAA Offensive Player of the Year last season, has completed 36 of 58 passes for 556 yards and four touchdowns this season. He has not been intercepted.
He’s complemented by running back and kick returner Shane Simpson, who has gained 163 yards on 21 rushing attempts in Towson’s two games (7.8 ypc). Simpson has two rushing touchdowns and has also caught a TD pass. Last season Simpson finished second among FCS players in all-purpose yards per game (171.5).
Maine opened its season with a 42-14 victor over Sacred Heart, but dropped a 26-18 decision to Georgia Southern -- an FBS program -- last Saturday.
“(Flacco) makes plays,” Charlton said. “He does it in a lot of different ways. His ability to throw the football is a little underestimated, if there is such a thing for a Player of the Year. He can throw it well and he’s able to make a lot of plays with his feet, so we have to be good staying in coverage and being in our rush lanes. He’s a tremendous player and definitely adds a different element, and I think Shane Simpson is one of the best players in this conference, probably in the country.
“Explosive players on both sides of the ball and special teams, so we got our work cut out for us. At the end of the day it’s going to be about execution. It’s going to be about playing good football. I think both sides will be up to the challenge. It should be a really good game.”
Saturday’s game will be the 13th meeting between the programs. Maine has an 8-6 edge in the series, which includes a 35-28 victory last season. Towson had a first-and-goal situation from the Maine nine-yard line with less than five minutes to play in that game but failed to find the end zone.
The visiting team has won the last three games in the series. Towson has won the last two games played in Orono. The Black Bears haven’t won a home game against the Tigers since 2007.
Maine will wear throwback helmets Saturday night to honor the school’s 1965 football team that played in the Tangerine Bowl. Players from that team will be recognized at halftime.
Towson is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2013, when the Tigers won their first six games and advanced to the FCS national championship game.
Flacco has completed at least one pass to 12 receivers this season. Wide receiver Shane Leatherbury has a team-high eight receptions.
Saturday’s matchup will be the first time Towson has played in a regular-season FCS game between two teams ranked in the top 10.
Maine, which led the FCS in rushing yards allowed per game (79.2) last season, surrendered 395 rushing yards in its loss to Georgia Southern. The Black Bears have yet to record a sack this season.