KINGSTON, R.I. — A different result might have crushed the spirit of the struggling University of Maine football team.
Instead, the Black Bears made a critical play with their backs against the goal line and a game on the line Saturday afternoon.
Rhode Island quarterback Steve Probst was stopped on an option run to the left side from the 1-yard line and his errant pitch to Travis Hurd resulted in an 11-yard loss on the final play of the game as UMaine held on for a 28-23 Colonial Athletic Association victory at Meade Stadium.
“We found a way to win today, in many different ways, called on many different parts of the game, many different people,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove, whose team (3-5, 2-3 CAA) ended a two-game losing streak by making enough clutch plays on both sides of the ball to overcome a sluggish offensive performance and the efforts of its banged-up defense.
“It wasn’t one of those days where you saw us dominate or control any part of the game, but (we) seemed to be able to do the things when we needed to, to win the game,” he added.
Despite allowing Rhode Island (2-5, 1-3 CAA) to complete six passes in the final 1:17, the Black Bears got the stop they needed.
Probst, a transfer from Hofstra, had directed the Rams on the desperation drive from their own 22. He appeared to be the hero when he threw an 8-yard pass to tight end Joe Migliarese in the back of the end zone with 12 seconds remaining.
However, Migliarese was ruled to be out of bounds.
“Migs had two touchdowns in one game; neither of them counted,” Probst said. “The last one in the end zone with eight seconds, I thought we won, I was all excited, and he was out of bounds.”
On the next play, Probst ran seven yards to the 1 and URI called timeout with one second left. UMaine sniffed out the option.
“It’s exciting, I guess, just to be put in that position,” said UMaine linebacker Vinson Givans. “You always see it in the movies and on TV but you never really get to live it. We just took advantage of it. They moved the ball on us, but our defense, we just wanted it more at the end of the game.”
The Bears demonstrated their resolve despite being without a handful of key players due to injuries. That group included tailback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, wideout Tyrell Jones, cornerback Dom Cusano and defensive tackle Kevin Phanor, all starters, along with backup linebacker Levi Ervin of Lisbon Falls and fullback Conor Keating.
“We were kind of challenged today, personnel-wise, with guys that couldn’t make the trip and we asked guys to step up,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine starting quarterback Warren Smith, who practiced sparingly last week because of a hip ailment, eventually left Saturday’s game after reaggravating the injury.
The Bears earned only 12 first downs, but executed some long scoring plays to generate momentum.
Perhaps the biggest came with 3:47 left in the third quarter and UMaine leading 14-10. On first down from the 14-yard line, redshirt freshman tailback Terrel Walker took an inside handoff and had a gaping hole. He raced 86 yards, untouched, for his first collegiate touchdown.
“First, I just feel blessed to be in the position to step in and fill in someone’s shoes,” Walker said. “Everything just went right on that play and I saw green, so I ran fast, got that touchdown. We needed it.”
URI responded with a 64-yard drive that was capped by Ramadan Abdullah’s leaping grab of a 14-yard lob from Probst. Louis Feinstein’s PAT made it 21-17.
A defensive gem in the fourth quarter set up the game-winning TD.
The Rams attempted a reverse pass on which running back Anthony Baskerville took a handoff and threw to the left side. Givans read the play, picked off the pass and ran it back to the 2-yard line.
“I saw the reverse and I saw No. 44 (Anthony Ferrer), he just kept running, so I kept fading back and I saw No. 33 (Baskerville) stop, throw the ball; I accelerated, got the pick.”
Pushaun Brown ran it in on the next play, making it 28-17 with 10:48 remaining.
The hosts answered, sparked by Hurd’s 46-yard kickoff return to midfield. Three plays later, Ferrer ran 17 yards for a TD to get the Rams back within five with 9:08 to play.
A two-point conversion that would have gotten URI within a field goal failed when Migliarese caught a Probst pass but was ruled out of bounds in the end zone.
UMaine failed to put the game away on two possessions with backup QB Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth at the helm, affording URI’s final chance.
Smith completed 16 of 29 passes for 281 yards and a TD. Tailback Brown rushed for 40 yards and caught five passes for 75 yards and a score.
Probst went 22-for-33 good for 255 yards and a TD, with Baskerville making nine receptions for 100 yards. The Rams piled up 24 first downs and outgained the Bears 436 yards to 380.
“At the end of the day it’s not first downs that win games, it’s points,” Probst said.
Givans, who was withheld from contact last week while nursing an injury, headed the UMaine defense with 10 tackles. Coston made eight tackles and linebacker Donte Dennis had seven.
Matt Hansen registered 10 tackles to pace URI.
The Rams scored on their first possession after a 49-yard kickoff return by Zack Moore. Probst ran it in from 2 yards out.
URI then marched 77 yards to set up a 33-yard field-goal attempt by Feinstein, whose kick missed wide left.
UMaine responded with back-to-back scoring drives.
On the first, Brown slipped behind the defense down the left sideline for a 45-yard TD reception from Smith with 14:50 left in the second quarter.
The Bears then scored on their next possession, this one capped by Smith’s 3-yard scoring run that gave them the lead for good with 9:21 left in the first half.
After that Dennis, who had been held out because of an injury issue, asked to be put in the game and seemed to settle down the defense.
“I think they kind of took the lead from Donte and they stepped up and played better defense.”
Maine (3-5) 0 14 7 7 — 28
Rhode Island (2-5) 7 0 10 6 — 23
URI — Probst 2 run (Feinstein kick)
UM — Brown 45 pass from Smith (Harvey kick)
UM — Smith 3 run (Harvey kick)
URI — Feinstein 24 field goal
UM — Walker 86 run (Harvey kick)
URI — Abdullah 14 pass from Probst (Feinstein kick)
UM — Brown 2 run (Harvey kick)
URI — Ferrer 17 run (pass failed)