SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The quarterback platoon is over at the University of Maine.
Sophomore Warren Smith got the start Saturday night and demonstrated his skills, passing for 305 yards and three touchdowns in front of 35,632 fans at the Carrier Dome.
The Iona College transfer helped breathe new life into the offense against Big East member Syracuse, which nonetheless dominated the second half and pulled away for a 41-24 victory over the Black Bears.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team (2-2) unveiled a wide-open assault, complete with daring special teams plays, to give the Orange a serious challenge.
“We came here to win,” Cosgrove said. “We did play solid for 30 minutes. We have a tough conference schedule in front of us and ‘good game’ ain’t going to get it done.”
UMaine led 17-10 in the first half and was up by four early in the third quarter, but Syracuse (2-2) made adjustments and bounced back with a vengeance after intermission.
The hosts scored on their first three possessions of the second half to take control.
“We did not want to go back to our old ways and the pride we had to come out with in the second half and the level of heart we had to play,” said Syracuse senior Delone Carter.
In the aftermath of the Bears’ loss at Albany, Cosgrove promised UMaine would be more aggressive. He wasn’t kidding.
“We needed to do something, so we took a different approach. We got aggressive,” Cosgrove said.
Smith got the starting nod and senior Mike Brusko moved to slot receiver. The Bears threw the ball 36 times and unveiled a diverse package more reminiscent of the “spread” scheme. Smith completed 24 of 35 passes.
He found Landis Williams (6 catches, 102 yards) on a 56-yard bomb in the first quarter and also competed a 14-yard scoring toss to the senior wide receiver. Smith also hit Tyrell Jones on a 15-yard TD throw.
He was intercepted twice.
“I felt good, just throwing the ball around,” Smith said. “The O-line obviously helped me out protecting me and we have athletes on the outside that make it all happen — and the play-calling.”
And there were bold special-teams plays. UMaine effectively executed two onside kicks and two fake punts.
However, the Bears couldn’t sustain their play. Syracuse came out and dominated the final 25 minutes.
Led by quarterback Greg Paulus — the former Duke University point guard — Syracuse got on a roll.
The graduate student efficiently completed 21 of 28 passes for 270 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. Syracuse had 11 different receivers with at least one catch, led by wideout Mike Williams (5 receptions, 80 yards).
Carter (19 carries, 72 yds.) provided a run presence as the Orange netted 236 second-half yards.
UMaine, which outgained Syracuse 430-385, was severely hampered by penalties. The Bears were whistled for 17 penalties costing them 132 yards. Eight were holding calls.
“Those hurt,” Smith said.
Syracuse incurred 10 penalties for 102 yards.
The Orange jumped on top in the first quarter after five UMaine penalties gave the them excellent field position to aid a 31-yard scoring drive.
Paulus scrambled and found Carter in the end zone for a 2-yard TD toss at the 7:19 mark.
But it was no cake walk.
The Bears answered with an impressive 16-play, 88-yard march. Smith went 8-for-11 to set up Jordan Waxman’s 35-yard field goal five seconds into the second quarter.
UMaine stayed on the offensive as, on the ensuing kickoff, Waxman bunted the ball forward and fell on the onside kick at the UM 44-yard line.
“Those things worked out and gave us some momentum and obviously helped contribute to the points we got on the board,” Cosgrove said.
On the next play, Smith faked an inside handoff and launched a bomb to Williams on a post pattern for a 56-yard touchdown hookup.
“We were playing against a big I-A team,” Smith said. “We were going all-out. Our theme was ‘go for it’ this week.”
Syracuse answered with Ryan Lichtenstein’s 28-yard field goal to make it 10-10 with 10:50 left in the half.
After trading possessions, the Bears took another risk. This time, backup punter Brusko’s fake-punt pass to Des Randall went for 35 yards to keep the 83-yard drive alive.
Four plays later, Smith’s 13-yard pass was tipped by Syracuse’s Doug Hogue but caught low in the end zone by Williams. Waxman’s kick gave the Bears a seven-point lead with 4:58 left in the half.
“It got comfortable for us throwing the ball and being aggressive, but the whole team had that mindset,” Williams said.
The Orange ended the half with a 35-yard field goal by Lichtenstein that made it 17-13.
UMaine held the ball for 5:13 to open the second half, but couldn’t score. Syracuse dominated from that point on.
Paulus got into a good rhythm with a short-range passing attack as the Orange raced 86 yards on eight plays, capped by Carter’s 8-yard TD run, to take the lead for good.
Aided by penalty-induced excellent field position, Syracuse scored again on a 17-yard toss from Paulus to Marcus Sales that made it 27-17 with 1:30 to go in the third quarter.
Smith was picked off by Hogue on the Bears’ next series and Syracuse scored two plays later on a 5-yard run by Carter that put the hosts in command.
“I didn’t think we were overmatched,” Cosgrove said. “I’m just disappointed in our second half. We got beat 28-7 when we were in charge of the football game.”