ORONO — Usually, it is the losing team that addresses its shortcomings after a game.
Saturday afternoon, coach Jack Cosgrove and his University of Maine players couldn’t help but engage in some self-criticism — even though their mistakes were overcome.
The 12th-ranked Black Bears incurred frequent penalties and wobbled a bit down the stretch, but still emerged with a 27-21 Colonial Athletic Association football victory over Rhode Island at blustery Alfond Stadium.
UMaine built a 20-point, second-half advantage, then withstood a fourth-quarter challenge by the Rams earn their third straight win in front of 7,256 enthusiastic homecoming fans.
UMaine (5-1 overall, 3-0 CAA) maintained a share of first place in the league along with upstart Towson (5-1, 3-0 CAA).
“It got tense,” Cosgrove said. “This one wasn’t like the last two in regard to how we played. I think our guys know that.”
The Black Bears were penalized 10 times for 102 yards, including six holding calls, and the defense yielded 215 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
The effort was good enough, but the Bears continue to set high standards for their performance.
“Vins (Vinson Givans) had the interception for a touchdown and we made enough plays on offense to get the win, but 10 penalties for 102 yards is not a good formula for success,” said UMaine senior quarterback Warren Smith.
UMaine has begun preparing for Saturday’s game at Richmond (3-3, 0-3 CAA), which is coming off a bye week.
The Bears prevailed with offensive balance (233 yards passing, 118 yards rushing) and big-play capabilities, along with a resilient defense that forced three turnovers.
UMaine had three touchdowns of 21 yards or more, while senior linebacker Givans (10 tackles) forced a fumble that led to a touchdown and made the “pick-six.” Senior safety Trevor Coston (8 tackles) also made an interception.
“We just wanted to play tough,” said Givans, who explained the Bears were disappointed after allowing 304 rushing yards at James Madison a week earlier.
“We had to buckle down and get stops,” he added.
UMaine took advantage with the gusty wind at its back on its second possession of the second half after taking over at midfield.
Aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty, the Bears needed five plays to score. Smith (18-for-26 passing, 233 yds., 3 TDs) found Derek Session alone over the middle for a 21-yard scoring hookup.
Brian Harvey’s PAT made it 21-0.
Rhode Island (1-5, 0-3 CAA) responded, with quarterback Bob Bentsen (11-17, 158 yds., 2 TDs) having replaced starter Steve Probst (concussion). He drove the Rams 80 yards on nine plays, finding Anthony Baskerville in a crowd of UMaine defenders in the end zone for a 25-yard TD.
The Bears re-established a 20-point cushion late in the third quarter after Jordan Waxman angled a punt out of bounds at the URI 3-yard line.
Three plays later, Bentsen’s screen pass went off the hands of fullback Chris Mancuso and into the hands of Givans (10 tackles), who took two strides into the end zone for a touchdown with 1:12 left in the third.
“We’re not good enough right now to overcome those mistakes, especially against a great team like Maine,” said Rhode Island coach Joe Trainer.
The PAT was blocked, leaving UMaine on top 27-7.
Coston intercepted Bentsen on the next series, but the Bears gave the ball back when Terrel Walker fumbled inside the 5. URI scored two plays later on Mancuso’s 1-yard plunge to make it 27-14.
UMaine chewed up 5 1/2 minutes on its next possession, then punted to the URI 5. The Rams made it interesting, manufacturing a 17-play drive.
Bentsen’s 4-yard scoring toss to Baskerville and Louis Feinstein’s PAT kick got URI within 27-21 with 1:56 to play.
The Rams opted to kick the ball deep rather than try an onside kick and UMaine picked up a first down and ran out the clock.
“I thought we did a pretty good job in that two-minute segment where we closed it out,” Smith said.
Senior tailback Pushaun Brown carried 29 times for 103 yards, 86 in the first half, to eclipse the century mark for the seventh time in his last eight Football Championship Subdivision games.
Junior wide receiver Maurice McDonald made nine catches for 139 yards, including a 41-yard scoring reception.
The Bears led 14-0 at halftime, thanks to some resilient play by the defense.
Rhode Island’s first series began at the UM 30 after a shanked 4-yard punt into the wind, but the defense rallied.
Michael Cole broke through and blocked a Feinstein’s 40-yard field-goal attempt.
The offense responded, driving 75 yards on eight plays. A 29-yard toss from Smith to McDonald helped set up a short toss from Smith to Brown, who went untouched 22 yards down the right side.
Harvey’s PAT kick made it 7-0 with 6:59 left in the quarter.
The defense lit the spark for the Bears’ second-quarter touchdown. URI’s Travis Hurd (16 carries, 54 yds.) broke off a 25-yard run up the middle, only to have the ball stripped from behind by Givans.
Kendall James recovered at the URI 41. On the next play, Smith eluded a pass-rusher, rolled right and found McDonald, who had slipped behind Rams cornerback Stanley Dunbar, for a touchdown.
“It was just a play-action play, a quick stutter-and-go,” McDonald said. “I got the defender to bite, just went behind him.”
Baskerville caught eight balls for 115 yards and two scores for URI.