WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — Re-establishing the running game is a priority this season for the University of Maine football team.
Jared Turcotte and the offensive line made a statement toward that end Saturday, paving the way for a 31-23 victory over Monmouth University at sunny Kessler Field.
Turcotte, a junior tailback from Lewiston, shook off a hip injury and powered his way to 144 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns to lead the Black Bears.
“It’s a good win for us because obviously we were disappointed with our result last week,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “To travel down and get a win on a beautiful day for football, and to respond the way we did in the second half with some challenges from Monmouth … I thought we did some really key things offensively and on special teams that allowed us to secure the win.”
Monmouth, which plays in the Northeast Conference and has only 34 scholarship equivalencies compared to 63 for UMaine, slipped to 0-2.
The Bears (1-1) now prepare for Saturday night’s game at Syracuse of the Big East.
UMaine blended the run and pass to the tune of 433 total yards. That included a strong, bounce-back effort by quarterback Warren Smith.
The junior celebrated the return to his native New Jersey by completing 17 of 26 passes for 194 yards. He had neither a touchdown nor an interception.
Derek Session made four receptions for 78 yards and was among eight Bears to catch at least one pass.
Safety Jerron McMillian and linebacker Vinson Givans led the defense with seven tackles each.
Monmouth presented some challenges to the UMaine defense, with versatile quarterback Kyle Frazier rushing for 64 yards and a score while completing 20 of 36 passes for 240 yards. The Hawks managed only 87 rushing yards.
The teams traded third-quarter touchdowns as UMaine scored on a a 22-yard burst off left tackle by Session, who had caught a 49-yard bomb from Smith on the previous play.
Monmouth retaliated as a 38-yard keeper by Frazier opened the door for a 2-yard scoring run by L.J. Caprio that got the Hawks back within four at 21-17 with 3:57 to play in the quarter.
UMaine extended the lead to 24-17 on Brian Harvey’s 22-yard field goal two minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks countered with a 25-yard field goal by Eric Spillane, but Steven Barker’s 63-yard return of the ensuing kickoff sparked the Bears to another score, this one a 7-yard dash by Turcotte with 7:30 left.
Monmouth tacked on a late field goal.
The Bears clung to a 14-10 lead at halftime after a momentum-building, 51-yard touchdown run by Turcotte on which he bobbled the exchange from the quarterback, secured the ball, then broke through the arms of a would-be tackler and ran around right end for a score.
While UMaine executed in fits and starts on offense and was plagued by penalties, it still managed to put two touchdowns on the scoreboard.
Sparked by Turcotte’s 83 yards and a steady effort by Smith, UMaine netted 205 total yards in the half.
The Bears took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter after putting together an eight-play, 70-yard march.
Tight end Derek Buttles’ grab of a third-down pass from Smith, a 19-yard hookup from Smith to Derrick Johnson, Smith’s 11-yard scamper and a 20-yard burst off right tackle by Pushaun Brown were the key plays.
Turcotte capped the drive with a three-yard run around left end and Brian Harvey added the PAT with 3:37 to play in the quarter.
Monmouth got on the board in the second quarter, going 38 yards on six plays to set up Eric Spillane’s 32-yard field goal at the 8:47 mark.
The Hawks seemed to gain confidence and mix up their offensive plays as the half progressed. They got the ball back after forcing UMaine to punt and quickly moved down the field.
Frazier completed two passes, sandwiched around runs of 10 and 5 yards by Balial Sloan El. On the next play, he faked an inside handoff to Sloan El, freezing the UMaine defense long enough to run 16 yards, untouched, off the right side.
Spillane’s PAT put the Hawks on top 10-7 with 5:13 to play in the half.
The Bears responded on their next possession. A nine-yard pass from Smith to Buttles left UMaine with a fourth-and-one from their own 49-yard line.
The Bears went for it and Turcotte made it pay off as he broke through the arms of Monmouth cornerback Kenny Amsel at the line of scrimmage and raced down the right sideline 51 yards to put UMaine back on top with 3:59 left.
The Hawks then threatened again, keyed by a 30-yard pass from Frazier to Bobby Giles. Facing fourth-and-inches from the UM 3-yard line, the hosts called timeout with 1:26 Monmouth lined up with no quarterback and three running backs in the backfield, only to have L.J. Caprio fail to handle the shotgun snap and fall on the ball at the 12.