ORONO — The University of Maine played both of its junior quarterbacks during Thursday night’s season opener.
Neither Warren Smith nor Chris Treister could get the Black Bears into the end zone.
The University at Albany kicked a first-quarter field goal and made it hold up, shocking an enthusiastic home football crowd of 7,610 while shutting out UMaine 3-0 at sultry Alfond Stadium.
“Our play in all areas was suspect,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“It was as disappointing a performance, probably, in some aspects, as I’ve been around here, especially with the optimism that we entered into the thing with,” he added.
UAlbany, a Northeast Conference team that has only 34 scholarship equivalencies — UMaine has 63 — beat the Black Bears of the vaunted Colonial Athletic Association for the second straight season.
“Albany played a very good, solid football game. They’re an excellent, hard-nosed crew,” Cosgrove said. “We didn’t make some plays. We didn’t respond the way I thought we could, especially on one side [offense] of the football. I thought we were better equipped than we turned out being today.”
Herb Glass’ 22-yard field goal with 7:44 remaining in the first quarter, coming after an interception of Smith, was the difference.
The Great Danes’ ability to shut down the UMaine offense put a damper on an impressive performance by the Bears’ defensive unit, which allowed only 250 yards.
“This is a very challenging night for them because we put them in a tough spot all night long,” Cosgrove said.
“Our defense really had to do a great job preventing points and not giving up big plays,” he added.
The spotlight was turned again Thursday night onto UMaine quarterbacks Treister and Smith, who had battled throughout the offseason for the starting job.
Smith was named the starter Sunday, but was intercepted on his first pass attempt of the game and wound up completing only five of 13 passes for 49 yards.
Cosgrove made the switch as the Bears made their way into the locker room at halftime Thursday night.
“I didn’t feel like the position performed in the first half and it took me about five seconds to get to you [Treister] at halftime, didn’t it?” Cosgrove said.
The Bears seemed to have more life led by Treister (7-for-17, 63 yards), but were not able to make enough clutch plays to get the ball into scoring position.
“They weren’t doing anything crazy, they didn’t have any magical scheme that was outsmarting us,” Treister said. “We just needed to stick to the basics, communicate up front and get the job done. Unfortunately, they did it better than us and came out with the victory.”
UMaine also was bogged down by three turnovers, including two fumbles.
“We turned the ball over right away after a couple of series which, in these conditions, is very challenging to the defense,” Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove would not say who would start at quarterback next week at Monmouth.
“We still feel like we have two great young men at quarterback, so I’m going to rest on this one overnight,” he said.
The Bears had some success running the ball, as junior fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston picked up 90 yards on 18 carries before leaving the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a torso injury.
UAlbany put its offensive load on the shoulders of sophomore tailback Andrew Smith, who netted 129 yards on 27 carries. Quarterback Dan Di Lella completed 16 off 33 passes for 117 yards, including some key throws to Ryan Kirchner (7 receptions, 61 yards), to provide some balance.
Junior safety Jerron McMillian spearheaded UMaine with a game-best 13 tackles, including a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Linebacker Donte Dennis had eight tackles, including a sack, and safety Trevor Coston made eight tackles.
UMaine’s best scoring opportunity came midway through the fourth quarter when Treister led the Bears from their own 20-yard line to the UA-30.
UMaine appeared to have a touchdown when, on a second-and-nine play, Treister threw a long pass to Tyrell Jones, who was inadvertantly tripped up by a UA defender at the goal line and couldn’t hold onto the ball.
“I put it in a spot where he could catch it and I didn’t see what happened,” Treister said. “I was hoping he came down with it.”
Two plays later, Treister stumbled on a rollout and threw an incomplete pass.
“There was a surge of momentum a little bit in the second half, but we didn’t finish plays,” Cosgrove said.
It was a lackluster first half for UMaine, which trailed 3-0 at the break.
The Bears committed two turnovers, including a Smith interception that set up the Great Danes’ first-quarter field goal, and were unable to find any sort of offensive rhythm.
UAlbany outgained UMaine 160-101 in total yards while controlling the ball for 18 minutes, 39 seconds, more than seven minutes longer than the Bears. The Great Danes also picked up 10 first downs, while the hosts managed only three.
UMaine was unable to establish its ground game early, while Smith struggled to a 5-for-13 passing effort that included a handful of low, poorly-thrown balls.
“I thought the ball was dramatically low, that the (pass) rush was being felt,” Cosgrove said.” I didn’t feel the quarterback play that we needed taking place and we made a change.”
Strong safety Jerron McMillian spearheaded the Bears’ defense with eight tackles and that unit did a solid job of containing Albany’s balanced attack, one that produced 81 first-half rushing yards.
Tailback Andrew Smith netted 82 yards on 14 carries for the Great Danes, while quarterback Dan Di Lella made good on 10 of 19 throws for 79 yards. He was sacked twice.
UAlbany got on the scoreboard on its second possession of the contest, which came when safety Jake Ciccarello made a sliding interception of Smith in front of tight end Derek Buttles at the UMaine 39-yard line.
The visitors took the lead on a 22-yard field goal by Glass with 7:44 left in the quarter.
“You hope that your offensive football team can come back and get one score up on the board, get a seven-pointer up there, and you’ve got a chance to win the game. (We) didn’t do it,” Cosgrove said.