ALBANY, N.Y. — The University of Maine football team was rolling smoothly toward an apparent victory Saturday at University Field.
In the second half, Albany punctured a tiny hole in the Black Bears’ psyche. By the time it realized what was happening, UMaine’s confidence and resilience had leaked out and the Bears went flat.
The Great Danes scored 20 unanswered second-half points, erasing a 16-point deficit on their way to a 20-16 victory over UMaine.
“You’ll probably never see this kind of game again,” said 37th-year Albany coach Bob Ford. “A phenomenal win.”
Northeast Conference member Albany (1-2) overcame five turnovers, four in the first half, slowly turning the momentum in its favor while knocking off the 19th-ranked Black Bears (2-1).
UMaine’s overall inexperience showed as it faded in the second half.
“They kept coming at us and making plays and we kept getting tighter; a young team got tight,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove.
Albany, which has the equivalent of 32 scholarships, shut down UMaine (and its full complement of 63 scholarships) by limiting UMaine to 83 second-half yards and five first downs to facilitate the dramatic comeback.
“I thought we did not support our defense at all with any kind of time of possession,” Cosgrove said. “We really did not do a good job of possessing the ball, converting third downs, making plays.”
The Bears accounted for only 267 total yards and were unable to find any offensive rhythm in the second half. UMaine seemed to become predictable.
“I really feel like I allowed for too much conservativeness on both ends of our play,” Cosgrove admitted. “I point the finger right here [at myself] as a head coach in not being more aggressive offensively.”
The hosts accounted for 210 of their 282 yards after intermission. Tailback David McCarty finished with 109 yards on 27 carries, including a 24-yard burst for the go-ahead touchdown.
Quarterback Vinny Esposito, who was intercepted three times in the first half, passed for 121 yards and a score in the second half.
“I think maybe [Maine] came out a little flat in the second half,” Ford said. “We came out battling for just respectability.”
Albany scored on its last four possessions of the game, slowly re-energizing the Great Danes with confidence and enthusiasm. They started three second-half drives in UMaine territory, two inside the Bears’ 30-yard line.
“We don’t want this ever to happen again,” said junior cornerback Steven Barker, who had an interception, a forced fumble and a sack. “We’ve got to have more heart and be stronger.”
Albany asserted itself immediately in the second half, forcing UMaine to punt and going 40 yards to set up Herb Glass’s 27-yard field goal to make it 16-3.
As the Bears remained stagnant on offense, Albany sensed an opening even after a long drive and a missed field goal. On Albany’s next possession, Esposito’s 41-yard pass to Tim Bush set up his 22-yard scoring strike to Paul Booker in the end zone.
That PAT cut the deficit to 16-10 with 11:15 to play.
Senior quarterback and tri-captain Mike Brusko said the Bears were unable to overcome the mental challenges of playing with and protecting a lead.
“I think we got way too comfortable,” Brusko said. “They just played with a lot more intensity, a lot more passion, than we did in the second half.”
Albany blocked UMaine’s next punt, only to throw an interception (Jerron McMillian’s second of the day) on the very next play.
Two minutes later, a Jordan Waxman punt went only 17 yards, giving the hosts the ball at the UM 29. Six plays later, Glass booted a 33-yard field goal that made it 16-13 with 3:45 left.
UMaine was again unable to move the ball. On third down, Brusko was hit while making an option pitch to tailback Derek Session (21 carries, 76 yards) and the ball was recovered by Albany at the UM 28.
Two plays later, McCarty raced 24 yards up the gut to put Albany ahead 20-16 with 2:02 to play.
Warren Smith’s passing sparked a last-ditch UMaine drive to the UA 37, but his fourth-down pass was intercepted by Ciccarello with 28 seconds remaining.
Jordan Stevens of Temple (two sacks) and Donte Dennis led UMaine with 10 tackles each.
The Bears built a 16-0 halftime lead behind an opportunistic defense that limited the Great Danes to 72 yards.
UMaine cashed in an Esposito fumble forced by Barker and recovered by Al Serena at the UA 38-yard line.
Sparked by Session (6 carries, 45 yards), the Bears went 38 yards on nine plays. Session’s 20-yard burst through the middle and Waxman’s PAT made it 7-0 with 9:14 left in the quarter.
UMaine scored early in the second quarter with an eight-play, 63-yard drive engineered by Brusko. Roosevelt Boone’s 34-yard scamper helped set up a 15-yard TD fade pass from Brusko to Landis Williams.
However, the Bears failed to cash in on McMillian’s interception midway through the quarter. UMaine earned first-and-goal from the 2, but Session’s fourth-down leap from the 1 was thwarted.
UMaine later scored a safety when Stevens sacked Esposito in the end zone, but the Bears had squandered the chance for a three-TD cushion.
“I’m not saying that was the turning point of the game, but it had significant impact on the result,” Cosgrove said.