SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The University of Maine knew beating Bowl Championship Subdivision opponent Syracuse would require outstanding execution, tremendous resolve — and maybe a little luck.
The Black Bears didn’t demonstrate those key elements during Saturday night’s game at the Carrier Dome.
UMaine watched a first-half lead evaporate as the Orange dominated the last three quarters while posting a 38-14 victory over their Football Championship Subdivision counterparts.
“That’s why football’s a good game. It teaches you how to work through the tough times and we didn’t do a good job getting through the tough times today, at all,” said UMaine junior tailback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston.
UMaine (1-2) has begun preparations for Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association opener against No. 12 William & Mary at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Bears were on the verge of taking a 21-10 lead in the second quarter when Derek Session snuck behind the Syracuse defense, only to drop what appeared to be a certain touchdown pass.
On the next play, Doug Hogue sacked UMaine quarterback Warren Smith and stripped the ball, giving the hosts possession at the Bears’ 24-yard line. Syracuse eventually cashed in when Jose Cruz made a nifty sideline catch of a low Ryan Nassib pass with his feet in the end zone.
Ross Krautman’s PAT put the Orange (2-1) on top for good, 17-14, with 27 seconds left in the first half. It was the third consecutive scoring drive for Syracuse, which went on to score six times in seven straight possessions.
“We fought through some things early on,” said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. “It isn’t the ‘here we go again’ type attitude, we fought through it. Maine did a nice job, they made some plays.”
Cosgrove was upset about the Bears’ inability to answer the challenges posed by Syracuse and key game situations.
“I’m very disappointed by our performance in the second half; we got our butts kicked,” Cosgrove said. “I was personally embarrassed how poorly we executed on both sides of the ball in response to an opportunity to win a football game.”
With ample protection, Nassib and a slippery corps of receivers had their way with the UMaine defense. Nassib threw for a school-record five touchdowns, completing 19 of 28 passes for 260 yards.
Van Chew made seven catches for 113 yards and a score, while Alec Lemon caught five balls for 58 yards and two TDs.
Syracuse executed 13 pass plays covering at least 10 yards, with six of them going for 20 yards or more.
“We weren’t disciplined with our keys, from the D-line, to the linebackers, (and) especially the secondary,” said UMaine senior cornerback Dom Cusano. “We’re biting on first moves. We just weren’t disciplined.”
UMaine, led by six tackles each from linebacker Donte Dennis and cornerback Dom Cusano, did limit SU to 87 rushing yards.
On offense, the Bears played well early, but were stymied over the last 40 minutes.
Smith completed 20 of 27 passes for 127 yards and a score. He was not intercepted, but fumbled twice. Turcotte rushed for 56 yards and caught four passes for 36 yards.
Session made seven receptions for 38 yards, but had three or four dropped passes.
UMaine, which lost starting left guard Matt Barber to a right knee injury on the first play of the game, manufactured a 14-play, 84-yard scoring drive in the first quarter.
Smith completed six of seven throws on the march and punctuated it with a 10-yard TD scamper up the middle with 4:25 left in the quarter. Brian Harvey’s PAT gave UMaine a 7-0 lead.
After that, the Bears mustered only 111 yards on 43 offensive plays.
Their momentum sagged as Mike Holmes returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to the UM 27. Three plays later, Nassib hit Lemon on a 3-yard TD toss. Krautman’s kick tied it.
The Bears responded with another scoring drive, after a 34-yard kickoff return by Roosevelt Boone to the UM 44. Smith threw twice to Turcotte for a combined 29 yards to set up a 6-yard scoring pass to tight end Justin Perillo.
This time, the Orange came back with Krautman’s 32-yard field goal, which left UMaine on top 14-10 with 4:19 to play, setting up the Session drop and Smith fumble that re-opened the door for Syracuse.
“We just didn’t execute, plain and simple,” Turcotte said. “There’s not too much else to say. We weren’t on the same page. There’s no excuse for it.”
The teams traded punts to open the second half, before the the Orange energized the crowd of 37,758 with a nine-play, 87-yard march. SU blended the run and pass, scoring on a 20-yard strike from Nassib to Lemon, who was wide open in the end zone. The PAT made it 24-14.
The hosts ended the suspense, scoring on their next two possessions to extend their advantage to 38-14 five seconds into the second half.
“It’s all about momentum,” Smith said. “They had the momentum and we didn’t respond, so then the momentum just kept rolling.”
M—Smith 10 run (Harvey kick), 4:25.
S—Lemon 3 pass from R.Nassib (Krautman kick), 12:34.
M—Perillo 6 pass from Smith (Harvey kick), 10:06.
S—FG Krautman 32, 4:19.
S—Cruz 4 pass from R.Nassib (Krautman kick), :27.
S—Lemon 20 pass from R.Nassib (Krautman kick), 5:16.
S—Provo 20 pass from R.Nassib (Krautman kick), :43.
S—Chew 21 pass from R.Nassib (Krautman kick), 14:45.
RUSHING—Maine: Turcotte 13-56, Brown 6-19, Session 2-16, Team 1-(minus 2), Treister 1-(minus 9), Smith 9-(minus 14). Syracuse: Carter 15-65, Bailey 4-16, Gulley 2-9, Team 1-(minus 2), R.Nassib 4-(minus 10).
PASSING—Maine: Smith 20-27-0-127, Treister 1-2-0-2. Syracuse: R.Nassib 19-28-0-260, Loeb 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Maine: Session 7-38, Turcotte 4-36, Brown 2-10, Buttles 2-9, Randall 2-6, McCall 1-11, Ty.Jones 1-8, Perillo 1-6, Johnson 1-5. Syracuse: Chew 7-113, Provo 5-85, Lemon 5-58, Cruz 1-4, Carter 1-0.