(STATS) - After being one of the more road-tested teams in the FCS this season, Maine is traveling somewhere it's never been before - the national semifinals.
The seventh-seeded Black Bears road the strength of its bruising defense to a 23-18, quarterfinal-round victory at second-seeded Weber State Friday night in Ogden, Utah.
Maine (10-3) will travel out to Big Sky country again for its first appearance in the semis. The Black Bears will take on Saturday's winner between No. 6 seed UC Davis (10-2) and No. 3 seed Eastern Washington (10-2) next Saturday.
"That's the best team to ever put on a Maine uniform, and they're special," 33-year-old Joe Harasymiak, the CAA Football coach of the year, said afterward.
Weber State (10-3), the Big Sky's automatic qualifier, also was trying to qualify for the semifinals for the first time, but in the first-ever meeting between the programs, Maine won its sixth straight game to improve to 7-0 against Top 25 opponents. The CAA champ only played four home games during the regular season before adding a second-round win at home over Jacksonville State.
Maine's defense, dubbed the "Black Hole," picked off Weber State quarterback Jake Constantine four times in the second half and had 13 tackles for loss and three sacks, which limited the Wildcats' rushing total to negative-1 yard.
"That's the heart and soul of this team and will continue to be," Harasymiak said.
Senior Jeffrey DeVaughn had a pair of interceptions and Manny Patterson and Jaron Grayer added one each. DeVaughn's pick in the fourth quarter led to Ramon Jefferson's 45-yard touchdown run and a 20-12 lead. Grayer's, off a tipped pass, set up Kenny Doak's game-clinching 46-yard field goal with 1:34 left.
"Their players made critical plays when they needed to," Weber State coach Jay Hill said. "Those interceptions theny had were obviously key and probably the biggest part of this game."
Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson passed for two touchdowns in less than a four-minute span of the second and third quarters to stake the Black Bears to a 14-3 lead. Jaquan Blair scored from 9 yards out with 2:05 left in the second quarter. Earnest Edwards broke free from a tackle off a slant and raced to a 67-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Weber State cut its deficit to 14-12 after Trey Tuttle kicked his second field goal and Constantine avoided a potential sack to throw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Devon Cooley in the back of the Maine end zone. After Maine made it 23-12, Constantine threw a 12-yard TD pass to Darryl Demby (seven receptions, 154 yards) on the game's final play.
Maine's break-through to the semifinals came in its in fourth all-time quarterfinal. Weber State lost in the quarters to a CAA champ for the second straight year, falling 31-28 to James Madison on a game-ending field goal last December.
"We talk about accountability and belief, and these guys believe in it," Harasymiak said. "We went through some tough times, but it's all about the players, it's about the staff. I'm just so proud for the state of Maine and the university."
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