ORONO, Maine — One element separated No. 1 Richmond from the University of Maine during Saturday’s homecoming football game at Alfond Stadium.
A run game.
The defending Football Championship Subdivision national champions piled up 199 of their 252 rushing yards in the second half and neutralized UMaine’s ground game to pull away for 38-21 Colonial Athletic Association victory.
“They asserted themselves and we didn’t,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “They’re defending national champion, [the] No. 1-ranked team in the country. We’re not there yet; only in our dreams, I guess.”
UMaine (3-4, 2-2 CAA) lost for the third time in four games, again failing to maintain its level of play in the second half. The Black Bears have been ahead or tied at halftime in every game this season.
“It’s just a maturity thing,” said UMaine senior tri-captain Mike Brusko.
“We’re learning the hard way right now but, nonetheless, it’s a lesson that we needed to learn and hopefully guys are starting to recognize that. It’s time to make a change.”
UMaine was held to minus-2 yards rushing, the lowest total in recent memory and likely one of the worst efforts in program history.
“That’s obviously a concern,” Cosgrove said.
A hungry crowd of 6,087 watched Richmond (6-0, 4-0 CAA) score on four of its first five possessions in the second half to earn its 15th consecutive victory.
Richmond marched 77 yards on 13 plays to open the second half. Tailback Justin Forte (16 carries, 91 yards) rushed eight times for 48 yards as the Spiders regained their swagger.
Quarterback Eric Ward found Donte Boston alone in the end zone on a third-and-goal pass from the 3-yard line for the go-ahead touchdown (17-14).
“The offensive line came out and did a great job establishing themselves and they got real physical and the running backs ran the ball hard in the second half,” Ward said.
Ward completed seven of 10 passes for 70 yards and a TD in the second half.
“I think there was an obvious mismatch there at times in the second half with their offensive line versus our guys,” Cosgrove said.
Richmond made UMaine one-dimensional. The Bears attempted only 17 rushes in the game, 12 in the first half, and gained nothing.
Sophomore quarterback Warren Smith helped UMaine move the chains early. He completed 35 passes to threaten the school single-game record (62) with 58 attempts.
Ty Jones made nine catches for 78 yards and a TD, while Brusko caught seven balls for 92 yards as the Bears netted 327 yards through the air — the most in nearly five seasons.
“Second half we came out and didn’t execute like we did in the first half. That’s kind of been our story,” Smith said.
After going down 17-14, UMaine threatened quickly. Smith hit Jeremy Kelley on a 38-yard pass over the middle to the UR 30, but Kelley was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct (15 yards) after making a celebratory “first down” signal at the end of the play.
“I didn’t see it,” Cosgrove said. “We were in four-down territory then as opposed to having to punt the ball.”
UMaine stalled, and punted. Derek Hatcher fielded the kick at the 10, sidestepped hard-charging defender Conor Keating and followed his blockers up the right side for a TD that gave UR a 24-14 lead with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
“It was critical. It was one of those game-changing moments that put points on the board for us,” said Richmond coach Mike London. “We just kind of got rejuvenated.”
UMaine was unable to get anything going on its next two series, both three-and-outs.
Richmond put the game out of reach on its first series of the fourth when Garrett Wilkins bolted 57 yards for a score.
“We didn’t respond with the plays, we didn’t respond with the stops, we didn’t respond with the special teams,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears capped a strong first half by marching 77 yards for the go-ahead score.
Smith completed five straight throws but, on second-and-goal from the 9, a high snap went over Smith’s head and he recovered at the 21.
UMaine called timeout with eight seconds left. Rather than set up for a field goal, the Bears took a shot.
Jones skied over cornerback Seth Williams to catch a “jump ball” from Smith in the end zone and give UMaine the lead.
“He just throws it up there for me and I just have to go get it,” Jones said.
Jordan Waxman’s PAT made it 14-10 with 2.4 seconds to play.
Mistakes by the Bears set up both of Richmond’s first-half scores. A failed fake punt on the first possession gave the visitors the ball at the UM 39.
The Spiders needed three plays to score, on a 1-yard run by Kendall Gaskins.
UMaine responded with a 12-play, 78-yard drive. Smith completed two third-down passes to set up his 1-yard keeper with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
Richmond took the lead after noseguard Parker Miles intercepted a Smith screen pass at the 7-yard line. The UMaine defense responded and forced UR to kick a 20-yard field goal by Andrew Howard with 7:39 left in the first half.
Richmond was limited to 91 total yards in the half.