SYRACUSE, N.Y. — It was a revamped and revitalized University of Maine football team that took the field Saturday night at the Carrier Dome.
The Black Bears bore little resemblance to the squad that had lost to Albany a week earlier.
The most glaring difference Saturday was the play of the offense — behind newly-anointed starting quarterback Warren Smith.
The sophomore helped give the Bears hope early, but Syracuse eventually solved UMaine and pulled away for a 41-24 victory in front of 35,632 fans.
Syracuse senior quarterback Greg Paulus, the same standout who directed the Duke University basketball offense for four seasons, sparked the Orange’s second-half comeback with an efficient short-passing game.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s UMaine squad (2-2) appeared upset minded for 35 minutes or so, but ultimately was unable to sustain its performance against the Bowl Championship Subdivision talent of Syracuse (2-2).
The Bears were severely hampered by penalties and also committed two turnovers, both Smith interceptions.
With Paulus directing the show, the Orange scored on their first three possessions of the second half to turn a 17-13 halftime deficit into a 34-17 bulge with 14:55 remaining in the contest.
Syracuse tacked on a late score to put the game out of reach, while the Bears also scored with 10 seconds left.
UMaine ran out of steam and answers on offense in the second half as Syracuse pressured Smith consistently and bottled up the run game.
Smith completed 24 of 35 passes for 305 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Senior wideout Landis Williams wound up with six receptions for 102 yards and two TDs.
Paulus completed 21 of 28 passes for 270 and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Mike Williams made five catches for 80 yards and tailback Delone Carter netted 72 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Jerron McMillian and Donte Dennis paced the UMaine defense with seven and six tackles, respectively.
The Bears fell victim to injury in the game as backup linebacker Levi Ervin and starting free safety Trevor Coston were hurt three plays apart in the fourth quarter. Coston was taken away in an ambulance after an apparent head/neck injury.
Ervin also appeared to be dazed from a blow to the head, but was helped off the field by his teammates.
UMaine took more than five minutes off the clock with its opening possession of the second half, but didn’t put any points on the board.
Syracuse responded by regaining the lead. Spearheaded by a good short-passing package featuring wide receiver Mike Williams, Paulus guided the hosts down the field (86 yards in 8 plays). Delone Carter’s 8-yard TD run put the Orange on top 20-17 with 6:08 to play in the third quarter.
The Orange continued to build momentum, stopping the Bears and taking over on the UM 44 on their next possession.
Paulus completed three short passes, including an 18-yard scoring strike to Marcus Sales in the end zone. Ryan Lichtenstein’s PAT kick pushed the Syracuse lead to 27-17 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
It was apparent long before halftime that the Bears were up to the task, but it was even more evident with UMaine holding a 17-13 advantage at the break.
Smith’s crisp passing and a diverse offensive attack helped spearhead the Bears in the first 30 minutes. He completed 12 of 20 throws for 154 yards and two scores, with one interception.
Wide receiver Landis Williams made five receptions for 89 yards, including both touchdowns.
UMaine controlled play with its offense, which outgained Syracuse 256-149 in total yards and grabbed a nearly three-minute edge in time of possession.
The best evidence UMaine was not going to sit back and play conservatively came on the heels of a 16-play, 70-yard scoring drive that consumed 7 minutes, 17 seconds and resulted in Jordan Waxman’s 35-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Waxman bunted the ball gently on the ground and pounced on the onside kick at the UMaine 44-yard line.
Before anyone could stop to evaluate the daring move, Smith lofted a 56-yard post pass to Williams, who slipped behind Syracuse linebacker Kevyn Scott for a momentum-building touchdown.
The ball was in the air 51 yards, about the distance of a ball Smith had thrown from beyond midfield through the uprights during Friday’s walk-through at the dome.
Waxman’s PAT put UMaine ahead 10-7 with 14:44 left in the second quarter and energized the Bears.
The Orange answered with a 65-yard march of its own, sparked by a couple of nice throws from Paulus. However, UMaine stiffened, forcing a 28-yard field goal by Ryan Lichtenstein that tied the game at the 10:50 mark.
After the teams traded possessions (Smith threw an interception and Syracuse went three-and-out), UMaine went on another drive.
This one was kept alive when backup QB-turned-receiver and punter Mike Brusko passed to Des Randall on a 35-yard fake punt play.
Five plays later, Williams went down low in the end zone to catch a 13-yard Smith pass that was tipped by Orange linebacker Doug Hogue for a TD. Waxman’s kick gave the Bears a 17-10 lead.
Syracuse eventually mounted another pass-dominated march that led to a 35-yard Lichtenstein field goal with 1:01 to play in the first half.
The Orange had taken a 7-0 lead with a six-play, 31-yard drive on its second possession. The field position resulted from an early rash of UMaine penalties (5 for 48 yards).