RICHMOND, Va. — The University of Maine knew prior to Saturday it would need to play a nearly perfect game to beat No. 2-ranked Richmond.
The Black Bears were up to the task for a half, but the Spiders snared the visitors in a web of outstanding speed and game-changing plays after intermission while pulling away for a 44-17 Colonial Athletic Association football victory in front of 8,012 fans at UR Stadium.
After taking a 13-10 edge into the locker room at halftime, the Spiders (3-1, 2-0 CAA) stung the Bears for 31 second-half points, breaking open what had been a very close contest with a 17-point third quarter.
“As good as we were in the first half, it was as bad as I’ve seen in the second half in terms of responding,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “Our re-sponse mechanism was not good. We just did not do a good job in the second half and we paid the price.”
As the Bears stifled Rich-mond’s strong ground assault, the hosts instead relied on the poised play of quarterback Eric Ward (16-for-25, 273 yards, 3 touchdowns). When he didn’t have time to throw, he moved around the pocket and found open receivers.
On UR’s first possession of the second half, Ward com-pleted throws of 11, 11 and 18 yards before hitting Jordan Mitchell with a 25-yard fade ball to make it 20-10.
“They’ve got dangerous weapons and they use them,” said Bears senior linebacker Andrew Downey, who racked up 11 tackles, including a sack. “Today they thrived off of big plays.”
Following UMaine’s second straight three-and-out and a 22-yard punt return, the Spiders found some running room, in-cluding a 20-yard jaunt by John Crone. The hosts settled for Andrew Howard’s third field goal, a 29-yarder, to push the lead to 23-10.
The back-breaker came only three plays later when Justin Rogers intercepted an Adam Farkes pass and returned it 37 yards for a score — giving Richmond 17 points in less than seven minutes. It was the first interception thrown by Farkes in 11 quarters, during which he had passed for eight TDs.
“Mentally and physically, that hits you below the belt,” Downey said of the big plays. “We try our best to respond as a defense, and today, especially in the second half, we didn’t respond and the scoreboard shows that.”
The Spiders piled up 434 total yards, averaging 6.8 yards per play. They netted 161 yards via the run, while Mitchell made four receptions for 139 yards, among them an 87-yard TD catch-and-run in the first quar-ter.
Richmond turned in 15 plays that covered 10 yards or more, taking advantage of their speed at numerous positions.
“I think their speed is a dif-ference-maker,” Cosgrove said. “It stands out and it really be-came obvious to us that they’re faster than we are.”
The Spiders also lived up to their billing as the league’s top run defense, shutting down a UMaine run game that had been productive through the first three games. The Bears managed only 44 yards on 20 attempts and tailback Jhamal Fluellen, who had run for 100-plus yards in each of the first three games, finished with 27 yards on eight carries.
Sophomore QB Farkes com-pleted 20 of 34 passes for 229 yards and two scores plus the interception. However, UMaine’s offense was unable to put together any consistency.
“We just need to keep im-proving,” Farkes said. “Obvi-ously, something happened in the second half that wasn’t happening in the first and the score reflected that, but we’ve got to figure out how to put four quarters together.”
UMaine had taken a 3-0 lead on Brian Harvey’s 39-yard field goal, but Richmond responded with Mitchell’s tackle-breaking 87-yard reception and Howard field goals of 28 and 38 yards to make it 13-3.
The Bears answered when Farkes eluded a rush, rolled to his right and threw a 14-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Kenny Fersner (2 catches, 84 yards) in the right side of the end zone. The play got the Bears within 13-10 with 1:16 left in the first half.
“We were right there with these guys,” Farkes said. “We know we can play with them.”
Defensively, linebacker Sean Wasson complemented Downey with eight tackles. Tireless end Jovan Belcher made five, but he was effectively double-teamed, frequently allowing Ward to escape the rush.