Treister gets his chance and makes the most of it

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They say that everything happens for a reason and maybe that’s true, but it sure takes a considerable amount of thought to cajole up any good reason why former Portland High star Chris Treister never got the chance he earned to step in as the starting quarterback for his home state university.

Saturday afternoon, Treister, a sophomore, only complicated matters, when he seized the lone opportunity he’s been given with a record-setting debut behind center for the University of Maine Black Bears.

After three years waiting for coach Jack Cosgrove and his offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin to call his number, Treister exploded for 465 yards passing and five touchdowns, leading the Black Bears to a 41-17 victory over Rhode Island on Senior Day at Alfond Stadium.

Treister added a 23-yard touchdown dash in the third quarter as Maine improved to 5-5 overall, 4-3 in Colonial Athletic Association play. The Black Bears will play next weekend for the North Division title at New Hampshire.

Saturday, Treister connected on a record 39-of-45 attempts to seven different receivers, good for 11.9 yards per-completion, divvying up his five scoring strikes between senior captain Mike Brusko, high-flying senior Landis Williams and junior Tyrell Jones (9 catches, 128 yards).

“It was nice to get out there and play again on Saturday,” said Treister. “I expected to play well, but the important thing is we got the win. I have a lot of respect for (Brusko) and all the seniors on this team. It was great to be on the field with them for their last home game.”

Williams finished with a record 17 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair of scores on the deep ball in the second half. Treister hit Williams for a 41-yard score in Maine’s 21-point third quarter outburst, then again on a gorgeous 58-yard throw-and-catch to begin the fourth quarter.

At the Division I level, or any level for that matter, it’s not every day a quarterback steps in for his first start and four longtime school records fall. But that’s exactly what happened. Treister’s 39 completions replaced the 38 Mickey Fein collected back in 1997, and his almost surreal 86.7 completion percentage easily surpassed the 82.6 percent turned in by legendary Maine quarterback Mike Buck in 1989. Buck was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the sixth-round of the 1990 NFL draft.

“It goes without saying that Chris played unbelievable,” said Brusko, the former starting QB before moving to tight end. “And that’s not just for someone’s first start. The game he played was exceptional no matter how much experience one might have. I never doubted he could do it. It was great to be out there with him, and I’m thankful he helped us finish out with a win in our last home game.”

Still, with the possible exception of Treister, no one walked away from Maine’s dominating win more satisfied than Williams. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound speedster cemented his name in the Maine record books twice, exiting his final home game in a tie for most receptions in a game (17). His 220 yards broke Gene Benner’s 1969 record of 215 that had stood for 40 seasons.

“I’ve always had faith and belief in Chris,” said Williams. “He had a great debut. He came in and did his job and did it well. It means a lot to me to be a part of something special like that and even more to go out with a win on Senior Day.”

Treister left Portland in 2006 as the most decorated passer in Bulldogs history, no small feat considering the Blue first strapped on leather helmets over a century ago.

Playing for coach Mike Bailey, Treister finished as Portland’s career leader in touchdown passes with 56, and shattered the previous record for career passing yardage with over 5,000. Treister attempted and completed more passes in his three seasons than any other signal-caller in Bulldog history.

After finishing second to Lewiston fullback Jared Turcotte, now his teammate in Orono, in the Fitzpatrick Trophy voting, Treister was offered a full scholarship to ply his trade for the Black Bears, a rarity for in-state players during the 17-year Cosgrove era.

The obvious question is what happened?

The answer isn’t quite as clear.

Treister headed north and not surprisingly for first-year players traveled with the team as a redshirt freshman. When he first arrived in 2007, Brusko was named the starter at quarterback, but after the first game, was replaced for the season by sophomore Adam Farkes.

In 2008, Treister entered camp No. 2 on the depth chart behind Farkes, as Brusko slid over to tight end. Halfway through the year, Farkes was injured, but the Maine staff reinstated Brusko for the remainder of the season.

After the season, Farkes transferred out, leaving Brusko and Treister to fight it out for the starting job when camp opened in late August. Brusko, a proven leader, is highly capable of leading an offense, but is far more a runner than he is a passer. The job appeared to be Treister’s to win. However, when Iona College shut down its football program, quarterback Warren Smith, a sophomore from New Jersey, transferred to Maine and entered the preseason mix.

This is when things got a little dicey for Treister, one of the hardest working players in the Maine program. Brusko, now a fifth-year senior, was anointed the starter, leaving Treister and Smith to fight it out for the backup job. After three years in the program, few if any imagined Smith would supplant Treister on the depth chart. But during the preseason Smith impressed and Cosgrove, claiming it was a “good problem to have,” said the competition for backup was a “coin toss.”

This brings us to this season. With Turcotte out injured for the year, Maine struggled to move the chains on the ground and it was time to spread the field and go to the air. With Treister, a homegrown talent more than ready to step in and contribute, conventional wisdom would lead one to believe a “coin toss” meant he would at least get the shot he earned to prove what he can do. But despite the word “Maine” emblazoned on every helmet, Treister was bypassed and Smith was inserted as the starter by Week Three.

“When I was playing quarterback I think Treister felt after I left it would be his team with at least two years to be the man,” said Brusko (nine catches). “It’s been a difficult situation for sure. I talk to him a lot and know it’s been hard on him. I can’t give him enough credit for what he did yesterday. He has the right attitude. That allowed him to keep working hard. He did it for his teammates. He’s got another chance next week to put himself in great position for next year. I’m sure he’ll be competing again for the job.”

That means local football fans will be left once again to ponder why the University of Maine continues to overlook players from Maine, instead favoring out-of-state recruits most often from New Jersey and then Connecticut.

After Treister’s record-setting day, the Maine staff elected Williams as player of the week for the Black Bears.

But this just in: The CAA elected Treister as the league’s top player for the same week – for all teams.

Think about it.