Its now or never for the ‘Cats

James Evans

With two losses and two games to play, it is now or never for the Wildcats, who will travel to Maine this weekend in desperate search of a win. With four losses, the Black Bears’ chances of going to the playoffs are slim to none, while the ‘Cats have lost only two. If they could win their next two games, ‘Nova would be a lock for the playoffs. But for them to be considered for the postseason, the ‘Cats will have to win one of their last two. Their best chance is against Maine this weekend, considering the ‘Cats will have to play Delaware in their final outing.

PASSING: The ‘Cats have swung back and forth this season between two quarterbacks, Joe Casamento and Marvin Burroughs. Casamento started out the season playing phenomenally, but a mid-season injury forced him to sit out a couple of games and Burroughs looked impressive filling in. He led the ‘Cats to a win and was only narrowly defeated by UMass. ‘Nova’s passing game, though, has been the deadliest in the Atlantic 10 this year, no matter who is at the helm. They have amassed a total of 2,355 yards in the air this year, averaging 262 yards per game.

Last week, Maine quarterback Ron Whitcomb had the game of his career, throwing for over 300 yards and connecting on 13 of 21 pass attempts and three touchdowns to give the Black Bears their biggest win of the season, scoring 77 points. The freshman averages an impressive 215 yards a game.

Usually, ‘Nova would get the nod, but with Whitcomb on fire of late, it goes to Maine.

Advantage: Maine

RUSHING: The ‘Cats went with their one-two punch again last week, as Terry Butler and Martin “Mo” Gibson combined to rush for over 160 yards. Butler had 14 carries for 90 yards, while Gibson pitched in with 71 yards on 13 attempts. ‘Nova’s rushing attack has averaged 175 yards on the ground this year, putting it right in the middle of the pack.

Black Bears junior Marcus Williams had a career best game last Saturday, when he rushed for 246 yards on only 21 carries and had four touchdowns. These numbers earned him a tie for A-10 offensive player of the week. Williams’ numbers were not inflated just because of his big game last week; going into the game he was leading the conference in rushing with 115 yards a game. His big game was able to inflate that number to an amazing 130 yards a game. He has already shattered the 1,000-yard mark and is looking to try and break his record of 1,406 yards in a season. Williams also has a nose for the end zone, leading the A-10 in rushing touchdowns with 11.

Advantage: Maine

DEFENSE: The ‘Nova defense, which has been excellent all year, had a letdown last week against Hofstra, giving up 34 points to a team that ranks second to last in scoring. The ‘Cats will have to rebound strong this week, as Maine is coming off a record 77 points last week. Before last week’s game, the Black Bears had been averaging 20 points per game, but that has since risen to 28.5 per game. To be fair, though, many times the defense was dealt with little room to work last week. The defense was also able to contribute to the offense, as safety Raymond Ventrone was able to pick up a fumble and go 43 yards for a touchdown.

The Maine defense is stingy, giving up 20 points per game, but they will have to try and work hard to slow down the high flying offense of the ‘Cats. Maine ranks No. 1 in total defense in the A-10, giving up just under 300 yards per game (‘Nova is second). The Maine rushing defense is the best in the conference, as it is giving up just under 100 yards per game. So ‘Nova should stick to the air to try and beat the Black Bears.

Advantage: Even

SPECIAL TEAMS: The ‘Cats have been banking on their special teams to give them good field position this season and after a bright start for punt-returner J.J. Outlaw and Gibson, the team has gone silent. ‘Nova will need to rebound and hope that its special teams can give it good field position and maybe even some points this weekend against the Black Bears.

Sensational. This is the only word to describe Maine’s Arel Gordon against Morgan State, when he returned both a kick-off and a punt for a touchdown. His punt return went for 75 yards and his kick-off for a staggering 100 yards. He is the only Maine player ever and the only A-10 player this year to return both a kick-off and punt for a touchdown. This feat garnered him the A-10 Special Teams Player of the Week.

This week we will give the nod to Maine and its Dante Hall wannabe Gordon.

Advantage: Maine

Prediction: ‘Nova 27, Maine 20. Even though the Black Bears dominate when it comes to the stats, ‘Nova knows how important this game is and that will be the spark to push the team over the top.