ORONO — It was not a dominating performance by the University of Maine football team Saturday night.
Instead, the Black Bears did many of the little things that are necessary to win games.
UMaine seized the momentum early, controlled field position with its defense and kicking game, and avoided turnovers and penalties. The result was a season-opening 28-13 victory over Bryant University in front of 6,000-plus fans at Alfond Stadium.
“If you ask why we won today, it was because of field position, lack of penalties and no turnovers,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “Those were our Achilles’ heels last year.”
Senior safety Trevor Coston was a key catalyst. He made two interceptions, including one in the end zone, and netted 130 yards on five punt returns.
Coston turned in a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I really think he is about to have a phenomenal year for us,” Cosgrove said, “not only as a punt returner, because he’s courageous as heck with that, but as a safety.”
The Bears controlled the first half, then overcame an inconsistent second-half effort to beat a veteran Bulldogs team from the Northeast Conference.
The offense demonstrated good balance. Senior tailback Pushaun Brown turned in his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing effort dating back to last season, churning out 146 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
He gained 57 yards on four carries on the Bears’ opening possession, scoring from one yard out with only 1:43 gone off the clock.
“Pretty much, the first couple plays, that’s just a lot of bottled-up energy,” Brown said. “We’ve been waiting to go up against somebody else other than your own teammates, your own brothers. The O-line did a great job blocking it up front, gave me some seams. I just tried to hit (them) full speed.”
Senior quarterback Warren Smith was a dual threat. He had 14 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown and was 14-for-20 passing good for 135 yards. He was sacked twice, but was not intercepted.
“I was just trying to be smart with it,” Smith said of running when pressured rather than trying to force a throw.
“If I have nothing, (I’ll just) take it down and run with it try to make a play with my feet,” he added.
Junior Maurice McDonald was the leading receiver with six catches for 52 yards.
UMaine was penalized only twice for 15 yards, both in the first half.
The Bears’ defense did an outstanding job in the first half, but had more difficulty containing Bryant after intermission. Tailback Jordan Brown got loose for 128 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, most of it in the second half.
The Bulldogs also moved the ball through the air as redshirt freshman QB Mike Westerhaus completed 15 of 32 throws for 194 yards. He threw two interceptions, including one by Coston in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Jordan Harris caught six passes for 75 yards.
“We just weren’t the same football team that we were in the first half,” Cosgrove said.
“It seemed like we were very lethargic on offense. “Defensively, we were on the field the whole time,” he added.
The Bears led 21-0 at halftime, taking advantage of excellent field position. UMaine scored on three of its first five possessions.
UMaine’s punt team, led by Jordan Waxman (40-yard average), also excelled until having a kick blocked in the fourth quarter.
The Bears established the run on their opening possession behind an offensive line made up of tackles Josh Spearin of Limington and Steve Shea of Corinna, guards Jeff Gakos and Chris Howley, and center Garret Williamson.
Brown’s 1-yard TD dive gave the Bears the lead for good. Brian Harvey’s PAT made it 7-0.
Coston’s 29-yard punt return to the Bryant 26 set up UMaine’s second TD later in the quarter. McDonald’s 19-yard catch and run set the stage for Smith’s 1-yard keeper. Fullback Carlton Charles of Windham cleared the way with a nice block at the goal line.
Coston struck again after a three-and-out by the Bulldogs. He fielded Brendan Lane’s punt at his own 26-yard line near the right hashmark, cut across the field and raced down the sideline to the end zone.
David Hood’s block cleared the way for the last 20 yards of the 74-yard return, which made it 21-0 with 13:30 left in the half.
“You can see there’s some excitement around our special teams, and enthusiasm, especially when the product is a touchdown,” Cosgrove said.
Bryant answered with its best possession of the half. Westerhaus completed four passes, but the Bears braced and forced a 24-yard field-goal try by Mike Alberti that missed wide right.
UMaine made it 28-0 late in the third quarter after an eight-yard punt gave it the ball at the B 45. Smith’s scrambling, a 15-yard completion to Derek Buttles and a 15-yard keeper set up Brown’s 1-yard scoring run.
Bryant threatened on its next possession, only to have Coston intercept a tipped Westerhaus pass in the end zone.
The Bulldogs scored on their next drive (6 plays, 62 yards) on Brown’s 4-yard run.
Bryant then cashed in after Jordan Harris blocked a Waxman punt. The visitors needed six plays to score on Brown’s 11-yard run.