For a second straight season, No. 5 Delaware and Maine will meet in the season opener, but the Black Bears boast home field this time and are seeking a far better start right from the opening kickoff.
In the CAA spring lid-lifter earlier this year, eventual conference Offensive Player of the Year Dejoun Lee wasted no time helping the Blue Hens strike first, dashing for a kickoff-return touchdown in the game’s first play.
In a near-empty Delaware Stadium due to COVID-19, Maine was flat the rest of the way, with uncharacteristic blunders throughout leading to a 37-0 blanking by UD.
In the months since, however, Maine has undergone a makeover — in multiple senses of the word. Thursday night’s clash with the Hens will be the debut of new turf installed at Alfond Stadium, marking the facility’s first fresh playing surface in over a decade. The Black Bears also took this summer to announce a bevy of venue upgrades across their athletic complex in Orono.
Maine’s on-field makeover might not be as extreme, but fans can expect a different product in Thursday’s game thanks in part to an influx of transfers carefully overseen by head coach Nick Charlton. Charlton does return offensive mainstays in quarterback Joe Fagnano and 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Watchlist wideout Andre Miller.
Delaware rode momentum from the spring shutout of Maine all the way to its first league championship since 2010 but sputtered to an unceremonious semifinal finish at South Dakota State in dropping a humiliating 33-3 decision on ESPN.
All-American offensive lineman David Kroll believes UD’s issues exposed at SDSU, particularly on the offensive front, began well before the excursion to Brookings.
“I think one thing we lost, I would say after the Villanova game; I don’t know what happened, but we lost our attitude,” Kroll said during preseason camp.
“We had an attitude that we were the underdogs the entire season and that we had to go out there and prove to everyone that we were dominant and we were the best offensive line they were gonna see all season. I feel like once we won that CAA title, once we got past finally beating Villanova, it kinda dawned on us, ‘Oh, we are pretty good,’ then we backed down a little bit from being the nasty guys that we wanted to be. We want to regain that hunger.”
Delaware All-CAA QB Nolan Henderson, who played through injury in the latter stages of the Blue Hens’ playoff run, will set the tone for his team’s hunger after putting his grit on display in the spring.
Said Henderson in camp, “We see what a winning culture looks like. I think we’ve built a culture that is a good culture here. No one really expected us to make it to the semifinals after the years that we’ve had, kind of the up and downs, but now … taking the next step, realizing that we can do it. We were a game away from Frisco.”
“This league’s tough to begin with, but now for sure we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Henderson continued. “We’re going to need to bring our A-game each and every week, and it starts with Maine.”
Maine’s start is imposing in its own right. The Black Bears follow up their bout with Delaware with a trip to No. 2 James Madison. The CAA office did Maine no favors, as this stretch does not include an early-season open date.
“That’s a Maine schedule right there,” Charlton said of the initial weeks of his squad’s fall. “We always play great teams right out the gate; we play two FBS every year. Our guys are always up for the challenge.”
“If we want to be at that championship level, then you gotta compete and win those games in the fourth quarter,” Charlton later commented on what he termed “a typical Maine schedule.”
CAA Week 1 Notebook:
- New Hampshire will be without starting quarterback Max Brosmer for the season, Sean McDonnell told HERO Sports on Monday. Brosmer has a torn ACL, and Bret Edwards is slated to start in his stead in Thursday evening’s opener at Stony Brook.
- When William & Mary opens its fall at FBS Virginia this week, it will be a homecoming for Tribe head coach Mike London. London led the Cavaliers from 2010 to 2015.
- CAA vs. MVFC: UAlbany jumps right into the fire in Week 1 when it treks to North Dakota State. The Bison swept a 2018-2019 home-and-home with Delaware and are scheduled to venture to Towson this September.
- Towson, the only CAA school to opt not to participate in the spring schedule, plays its first contest since 2019 against Morgan State in the Battle for Greater Baltimore.